(click here for Charger's previous post)
(click here to see the beginning of this discussion)
This will be my third and final response to the Charger on the Problem of Evil. (I originally introduced the Problem of Evil and I have had three responses to the Charger after that, that’s why the number 4 is listed in the title) Before I had even read the Charger’s most recent piece I had told him that I was going to use this response to wrap up my side of things. This discussion has dominated a lot of my time for the last three months and I have other things I need and desire to work on. Now after reading the Charger’s most recent response I will be making this my last piece for another reason; this discussion is simply not going anywhere. Due to multiple faulty assumptions, clear misunderstandings and basic confusion this dialog has ended up being far less helpful for those interested in exploring the Problem of Evil then I had originally hoped it would be. At the end of this piece I will add a few links to some essays and articles that will give people a much better look into the Problem of Evil than can be found here if they are truly concerned with this topic.
Now in my previous response I noted multiple times that the Charger had missed something or skipped something from my first piece. He seemed to just ignore various issues that I brought up. He continued that trend in his most recent blog but I finally understood why due to how the Charger begins his response. After merely two paragraphs the Charger said, “since the Worrywart is asserting that the Problem of Evil proves that God doesn’t exist, the burden of proof is on him to prove that his arguments are valid. I don’t have to prove anything—I merely have to rebut his arguments in order for the theistic position to succeed. And if both of his arguments (the logical and evidential problems of evil) are rebutted, my opponent loses this debate, regardless of anything else that occurs in this debate.” The second I read this it was like the light bulb finally went on for me as to why the Charger’s pieces were set up the way they were and why they seemed so incomplete, he didn’t believe he had anything to prove. How or why the Charger has made this mistake I do not know but when discussing the existence of God it is in fact the theist who bears the burden of proof not the atheist. David Eller explains the issue of the burden of proof very well in his book “Natural Atheism”, which helps expose the Charger’s error here. Eller says:
“It is often mistakenly asserted that Atheists must prove their case; when an Atheist states that he or she does not believe in god, a Theist will respond, ‘Can you prove there is no god?’ Even worse, the occasional sophisticated Theist will meet you with the argument that ‘you cannot prove a negative.’ However logically and rhetorically, the Theist is wrong on both counts. A simple formulation of the burden-of-proof concept is that the party who makes a claim has the burden to prove or justify that claim, not the party who questions the claim…In the case of a religious argument, it is the Theist who makes the claim about god’s existence or attributes, and therefore it is he or she who must back up that claim. So, when the Theist asks you to prove there is no god, you are under no obligation to do so whatsoever. Further, it is not true that it is impossible to prove a negative. It is unnecessary to prove a negative, but if you can, then the case against the claim becomes even stronger, perhaps conclusive. For example, if someone accuses you of a crime (that is, makes a claim of factual truth), you can prove the negative (your innocence) by providing an alibi, producing witnesses who saw the event, or otherwise proving the impossibility or self-contradiction of the accusation.
In fact, let us pursue this analogy, for the American courtroom is a model of evidence and argument procedures. Let us imagine a prosecutor who asserts a charge, like ‘X did the crime’ or ‘There is a god.’ The charge is the positive claim—a truth claim that the statement embedded in the charge is true. The defense attorney rejects the charge as untrue. In our system of justice, we maintain that one is innocent until proven guilty. So the prosecutor must present his best evidence and argument for the truth of the charge. The defender can and in most cases should refute that evidence and argument as best he or she can and even introduce counterevidence and counterargument if possible. However, it is in the final analysis unnecessary that this be done. The defender could sit with feet up on the table without uttering a word, and ideally if the prosecution does not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant goes free. In other words, the defense (the ‘negative’) has no burden on it—literally, nothing to prove. Notice too that, since guilt naturally means the truth of the initial charge and innocence means its falsity, the presumption of innocence equates to a presumption of falsity: a claim is false until proven true.”
So despite the Charger’s claim it is in fact he who bears the burden of proof. If we use the courtroom analogy than this discussion between the Charger and I that began with me presenting the Problem of Evil would be like beginning a trail in the middle with the defense (atheist) going first presenting what is counterevidence (the Problem of Evil) to the prosecutor’s (theist) accusation (God exists). The fact that we started in the middle does not somehow change who bears the burden of proof when discussing God’s existence and that is the theist. Atheism is in fact obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God.
Now by me beginning this discussion it meant we began as if the Charger had already made some sort of rational argument for the existence of God though of course he did not. I accepted that assumption (that the Charger had made some sort of pro-theist argument) when I began this discussion but that did not somehow make belief in God the default position that needed no evidence to support itself. It was never assumed that God existed rather the only shared belief by both parties when this discussion began was the existence of evil/suffering. The Charger was then to prove why it was rational to believe his God existed despite suffering and I was to present my case as to why I felt suffering made it irrational to believe in the Charger’s God (all-good, all-powerful, etc.). The Charger’s mistake here prevented him from actually dealing with most of the issues I raised. He spent the majority of his pieces fighting the logical problem of evil and then trying to apply those deductive arguments to the evidential problem of evil as well. I truly do not understand why the Charger thought he only had to make his God logically possible to “win” this debate? No matter the reason it has made this exercise fairly disappointing. I feel we really missed an opportunity to discuss some of the harder issues theists face when looking at the suffering that exists in the world. Really due to this fact the Charger did not offer much that was new for me to deal with in his last piece. I could in fact say “see my previous piece” in response to most of what the Charger said here. The fact is the Charger believed he had nothing to prove and so not surprisingly he proved nothing. Still I will go through and reiterate what I previously said and add some more comments.
I) Logical Problem of Evil
There is little to say in this section of great significance. I maintain that an all-powerful, all-good God who was only capable of creating the world as we know it with the evil and suffering it now contains and the evil and suffering that will be maintained throughout eternity due to the existence of hell should have not created anything at all. It shows a lack of responsibility that would be similar to a couple deciding to have a child knowing that they would not be able to take care of it. The Charger seems to want creation to be the source of some “greater good” that would not have been possible without creation but that is problematic given that his God is supposed to be perfect lacking nothing. If creation and humanity enabled some “greater good” to exist that did not and could not exist when God was alone then God cannot be viewed as perfect goodness. Rather God would have lacked some “goodness” on his own. This of course goes against traditional views of the Abrahamic God who is said to be perfect and complete in and of itself not needing humanity in any way but rather he choose to create us for his own glory. To me God’s decision to create this world merely for his own glory, knowing the evil that would follow and endless suffering awaiting the majority of humanity, displays a fairly self-involved being who was more interested in what creation (humans) would be able to do for him rather then what the consequence would be for that creation (humans).
II) The Evidential Problem of Evil
In this section the Charger ignores a vast majority of what I said in my previous piece and merely repeats his arguments from his previous blogs, which were arguments that did not actually deal with the evidential problem of evil. There really is not a lot for me to do in this section except remind the readers what I have already said and again point out the Charger’s mistakes.
In the Charger’s section “How much is too much?” he ignores or does not understand the standard which I gave him and then refuses to offer any possible theistic solutions for the examples of evil and suffering that I provided. The standard remains the same “too much evil” = “pointless/gratuitous evil”. As a theist he does not believe there is any pointless suffering and so YES he must offer proofs for that. What greater good was accomplished by the tsunami that hit Japan? Or the number of Jews, in fact the number of all the people, who died in the Holocaust? Or the multiple rapes committed by Robert Burdick? Those are all places where I see suffering that did not unveil some magic goodness that was not possible without them but I could be wrong if the Charger would simply show me. This is where the weakness of the Charger’s position flares up again and again, he simply refuses to deal with actual examples of suffering and evil. Explain to us what “greater good” came from these events to justify your beliefs. Or at least provide some rational reason to believe that these events allowed for some greater good besides just the fact that you want that to be the case.
The fact remains that the evidential problem of evil does not seek to deal in absolutes (God cannot exist) but rather in probabilities (God does not likely exist). Now at the beginning of the section the Charger actually reminded his readers of this saying, “Unlike the logical problem of evil, the evidential problem only tries to prove that God probably doesn’t exist.” But then he goes on and seems to simply forget or dismiss this fact. The question in this section is, “is it rational to believe in God?” To answer this question one must deal with actual examples not merely logical propositions. But the Charger continued to harp that, “my opponent hasn’t ever proven that there is such a thing as “gratuitous” evil.” He seems determined to simply ignore the proofs I’m giving him saying that it is logically possible that I am wrong. Of course it is logically possible I am wrong it’s also logically possible that he is wrong but we are not talking merely about logically possibilities here we are talking about rational probabilities in this section. Is it more rational to believe some “greater good” came from Robert Burdick’s multiple rapes or that there was suffering that was in fact pointless? Is it more rational to believe that every single person killed, hurt, and affected by the tsunami in Japan is in fact better for having gone through that suffering or that there was in fact suffering that did not produce “greater goods”? The Charger continues to merely assert “greater goods” come from evil but he refuse to offer any rational for that belief or to deal with any of the specific examples of suffering I have provided.
The Charger wants to pretend that my thoughts here are circular, which is of course false. He also accuses me of making an argument from ignorance (true until proven false), which I find funny because it is in fact he who is doing this. This is not fully his fault because theism in fact encourages arguments from ignorance. Instead of rejecting a proposition if it is probably false, the theist accepts it because it is not certainly false. The fact is that a majority of the Charger’s piece is based on arguments from ignorance. One can see that here; he argues that if we cannot know for certain that gratuitous suffering exists and that it remains logically possible that it does not exist then he is rational for assuming that it does not exist no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary. But that is not how one arrives at rational beliefs rather that is how one tries to justify irrational beliefs. The Charger cannot rely on deductive arguments here rather he must deal with the evidence. Yes, one can argue that it is logically possible that there was some “greater good” that occurred due to the Holocaust but that does not solve the evidential problem of evil or even deal with it. The question is; is it rational to believe that the Holocaust produced “greater goods,” the lack of which would have created a worse earth than if the Holocaust had never happened? Can one truly account for every person who was killed; every person who was hurt (physically and emotionally); every possession that was destroyed; and every life (animal/plant) that was wiped out? I think one would be hard pressed to do so. Rather I think that it is far more likely to see that yes there was in fact suffering that occurred that did not somehow make the people or situations involved better and no the world would not be a worse place had the Holocaust not occurred. But if the Charger thinks I’m wrong he should have actually tried and explain why offering rational explanations for these events rather than ignoring them and pretending like there wasn’t even a problem.
Until the Charger is willing to leave the safety of the logical problem of evil and come down into the dirty mess of the evidential problem of evil than he cannot pretend to have offered any solution or rebuttal to the evidential problem of evil. The fact is that in all of his responses he has offered no possible answers to the problem besides “I don’t know but neither do you so I must be right” (argument of ignorance) which I find fairly disappointing.
The Charger begins his theodicy section by claiming he has won the argument and thus his theodicy section is not even really necessary. Of course based on the numerous mistakes he made in the previous section on the evidential problem of evil and his overall unwillingness to actually deal with the issues every theist must deal with to prove God’s existence this claim is false. He then asserts that all his theodicies must do to succeed is present a case where his God is logically possible. This remains inaccurate and I just do not understand why the Charger continues to assert this when it is clearly not true. When this whole discussion started we were supposed to discuss both whether the existence of the Charger’s God was logically possible and whether belief in his God was overall rational. The Charger has spent all his time focused on the first issue, his God’s logically possibility, while ignoring the second issue, his God’s rational probability, despite the fact that I said multiple times it was the second issue that I was more concerned with. The Charger can continue to claim his God is logically possible but that does not make belief in his God rational nor does it make belief in his God desirable.
Free Will Defense
Free will remains the key to everything the Charger argues in his theodicy section so I will make a few comments here. The biggest issue throughout this section is that the Charger continues to focus on what is logically possible while I focus on what is most probably meaning what is rational.
God and Free Will
I had previous noted that the libertarian free will that the Charger is so desperate to maintain for humanity is a free will that his God does not actually have. One can look at my previous piece for all my arguments. I will not repeat them because the Charger does not actually deal with them. He simply repeats that it is logically possible for his God to exist and create this world. But the fact remains it is also logically possible for a God to exist that created a better world so rationally speaking if God really is all-good which world would one expect God to make? I would lean towards a better world.
A large problem for the free will defense is that if there is in fact no logical contradiction involved in saying that God could have made people who always freely chose to do what is right then God in fact should have made that world and the free will defense collapses. Just as in the Logical Problem of Evil the Charger was only responsible for demonstrating a logical possibility for the coexistence of evil and God (all-good, all-powerful) here the atheist need only show the logical possibility of humans who always freely chose to do what is right in order to defeat the free will defense. I addressed this in my previous piece but see this this essay by Andrea Weisberger for a great layout of this issue. She deals with the free will defense as presented by Alvin Plantinga and Clem Dore showing the weaknesses of both.
The Charger maintains that in heaven being in the unfiltered presence of God will keep people from choosing to sin while maintaining their free will. The question of course becomes “why doesn’t God do that now here on earth?” The Charger responded that if God were to allow people into his unfiltered presence on earth, unlike in heaven, he would be forcing himself upon us against our will as in the crime of rape. I gave multiple examples to demonstrate what I see as the weaknesses in his argument. First, I said that God showing his presence to people on earth cannot be compared to rape by the typical theist (Abrahamic God) as there are numerous biblical examples of God showing himself to people like Paul and Moses. With these examples the Charger said that these people sinned after they were no longer in the presence of God whereas in heaven people remain in God’s presence and thus will not sin. Now that is fine but he did not explain why God showing himself to them and changing the direction of their lives here on earth was not equal to rape as he said it would be if God exposed him presence to everyone on earth? These people’s apparent exposure to God greatly affected their lives and led them down the “proper” path God willed for them. So again why doesn’t God merely do the same for all of us? Why would this be considered rape for some and not others? Second, I argued that being in God’s unfiltered presence cannot be thought to be enough to keep people from sinning as people who were in God’s presence still chose to sin. Adam and Eve and Satan were my main examples here. The Charger believes, like Paul and Moses, Adam and Eve only sinned because they were no longer in the presence of God. I find the Adam and Eve story to be a bit more complicated than that since the in theory at the time they were perfect and before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they were actually incapable of knowing that disobeying God was “evil”. Then with the Satan story the Charger is unable to give any reason why Satan and a third of the angels who had always been in God’s presence would suddenly decide to rebel against God the way Christian tradition teaches. The Charger says perhaps the devil had a onetime choice and for some reason God took away his influence for that moment. Why would God do that? Will he do that again in heaven? If he will not remove his influence in heaven to make sure people don’t sin why would he have done it in that moment to allow Satan to sin? Again we are left with a God whose presence, according to the Charger, could “influence” us not to sin without affecting our free will but who for no apparent reason decides not to do that (help us) until a certain time in the future when he will favor a small group of people in heaven over the majority of humans who ever existed who will burn in hell. So my question is; does this God who is “logically possible” equal a God who is rational to believe in? Again I would say no. I would even go further and say that this God is not even desirable considering a different God (also logically possible) could have done better.
The Charger claims that people will retain their free will in hell. In fact he says most theist believe that to which I would say he should do some more research, particularly historically, because I have not found that to be the case. Historically hell is a place where one’s freedoms are withdrawn from them and they are forced to suffer in numerous ways for eternity with no ability/freedom to make it stop. He then compares the ability to leave hell to the ability to fly pointing out that the bible says sins will not be forgiven in the age to come. He says, “In hell, we no longer have the ability to choose Christ.” So clearly there are choices that are no longer possible due to the fact that God removes those choices so why did God not remove certain choices before all these people were sent to hell to prevent this eternal evil from existing?
Here I will add that when it comes to the Charger’s free will argument church history is simply not on his side. Numerous parts of scripture and teachers of the church have taught that God’s sovereignty outweighs human freedom. The Westminster Confession states, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” John Calvin said that the damned are damned “by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible judgment.” And Martin Luther says, “The highest degree of faith is to believe He is just, though of His own will He makes us…proper subjects for damnation…If I could by any means understand how this same God…can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.” The list could obviously be much longer but the point is made. The fact is theists have never agreed among themselves upon the existence or extent of free will and if they cannot come to any sort of consensus how is an outsider observer supposed to understand what kind of God these theists are claiming exists and then decide if that God is rational to believe in? The God the Charger is presenting to me is not the same God many other theists have presented to me. And these other gods remain “logically possible” but many Christians today reject them because it has become more obvious how horrible such “logically possible” gods are. The type of God the theist usually forwards is a type of God that matches up best to the morality and ethics of the time period and culture in which that theist is in. I admit I like the Charger’s God better than some of the gods different theists have forwarded throughout history but at the end of the day his God remains a “logical possibility” (still irrational) that is a moral disappointment and unworthy of actual devotion or worship.
Free Will Theodicy
Here the Charger continues to maintain the free will is so highly valuable it outweighs the evil consequences that come from it. Here I continue to simply disagree with the amount of value the Charger places on complete libertarian free will. And then I go on to point out numerous ways God could have made the world better without affecting a person’s libertarian free will at all.
In all of my previous pieces I provided examples of how God could have done things differently without affecting any version of a person’s libertarian free will. Basically God could have made a better world. In his second piece the Charger glossed over most of these examples (skin color, language, strength, etc.) both missing the point of them and not providing any answers to the examples themselves. I pointed this out in my last piece and reiterated these examples in order to get the Charger to address them. But in his most recent piece he still did not go back and deal with any of those examples though oddly he seems to think he dealt with them. He said, “The Worrywart gives many different examples—for which I provided answers—but he argues correctly that the bigger issue is whether God could/should have created a better world.” I don’t know what answers he thinks he provided but at least in his newest piece we see that he understood the issue behind the examples, which is whether God could make a better world. But sadly he still provides no answers as to why God did not do some of these simple things that would greatly reduce the amount of suffering that has occurred on earth. He merely says, “I don’t think God should be blamed for imperfections in the world. If we really do have free will—and this free will was abused through rebellion against God—then it only makes since that perfection would be limited.” Again he just does not seem to be able to understand that each of these examples would not affect humanity’s free will in the slightest.
One of my main points in this section was that God could have made the world better merely by being a better teacher. This would allow humans to makes educated choices by better understanding the world around us and how it can help or hurt us. I used diseases as one example, though the Charger seems to think God teaching us about diseases was my point rather than an example. The Charger wrote, “The Worrywart argues that God should have taught humanity about viruses and diseases. I argued that God gave us a world where we’re responsible for our actions and, as a result, we’re able to better understand that decisions have consequences. The Worrywart responded that there is no connection.” The Charger doesn’t seem to understand that there still isn’t a connection. You can teach your children things about the world while they remain responsible for their actions. In fact most people would say you should teach your kids so that they can make better choices. The Charger further displays his confusion by saying, “The point here is that, if we live in a world where there are no diseases or disasters, then we’re like spoiled rich kids who never really understand that our decisions do matter.” I have no idea how the Charger jumped from me saying God should offer us information about how the world around us works (includes viruses and diseases) to that meaning there would be no diseases or natural disasters in the world? Teaching your child to wash their hands after they sneeze does not magically remove the possibility of them getting sick or their personal responsibility to wash their hands themselves but it does give them information that helps them understand why they should make certain choices, in this case to wash their hands. A good God would have to be a good teacher and the Charger’s God is not a good teacher.
The Charger tries to show his God was a good teacher when it comes to diseases and viruses by giving God credit for providing the Jewish dietary laws. First, I pointed out that for a Christian the Jewish dietary laws are of no value since Christians do not keep them and historically they never have. I also noted that these laws were given to fairly small group of people calling into question God’s desire to teach all of humanity. The Charger tries to get around the first part about Christians rejecting the law saying Paul meant the law was simply no longer a way to be spiritually justified. Even if that were true it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t matter why the church stopped obeying the dietary laws the point is that the church did stop obeying them and they taught people not to follow those laws. So for the Charger to try and use those laws as a way God intended to help teach the world about a healthy diet just does not work from a Christian perspective. To deal with how limited God’s concern for humanity seemed the Charger then proceeded to give God credit for any and all dietary laws or customs from multiple cultures and religions around the world that seemed in any way beneficial to human health. He referenced Islam, Hinduism and Jainism. He says, “One could argue that God provided all cultures with a good idea of what actions, foods and laws should be followed.” This argument seems fairly desperate. I am now supposed to think it is rational to believe that anything and everything found in other religions that is beneficial to human health was put there by the Charger’s God? This seeks to give the Charger’s God credit where credit is not due. One would have to ask the individuals of each of those religions and cultures why they have the customs they have and one will find that Hindus, Buddhists and Jains do not give credit to the God of Abraham. Now if the Charger wants to say it was still his God who “inspired” these customs one must again question his God’s ability to communicate and his actual desire to teach since these people seem to have no clue who this God is. And then no matter how valuable any of those customs were to people’s health the Charger’s God remains a bad teacher in that he never taught anyone the actual way diseases function and why one would want to do certain things and not others. A teacher who explains why one should do something along with what one should do is a far better teacher than the one who only provides what one should do. Again disease was merely an example I used to make this point. One could throw in many more examples to question the Charger’s God as a teacher such as why God did not aid humanity in learning how to farm, domesticate animals, write, forge metal, or numerous other things that have helped humanity as they discovered them but which in the overall scope of humanity’s existence have only been discovered/invented very recently.
The Charger says at this point, “The Worrywart finally drops into a long litany of anti-Christian comments that have absolutely no bearing on this discussion.” This again displays a misunderstanding on the Chargers part. This entire section in my piece was about God’s willingness and ability (or unwillingness and inability as it were) to teach people and how teaching people more about the world would in no way impede their free will. So my last paragraph in that section continues with this issue discussing God’s desire and effectiveness at teaching humanity by specifically looking at history. I said:
Really few things expose the Christian God’s inability or unwillingness to communicate and teach as clearly as the bible. The fact is humanity (homo sapiens) have existed for 180,000 to 200,000 years but this God remained silent until about 3,000 years ago when he started to give some limited (and mostly inaccurate) information to a few individuals, which were meant to be restricted to a very small group of people. Slowly the various messages (often contradictory) spread as more and more writings got “inspired.” Still over-all God’s form of communication (scripture) was segregated to a very small portion of the world. It seems fairly clear that God simply had no desire to teach anyone in China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia, the Pacific Islands, a majority of Africa, North America or South America. This God still has not gotten his bible to everyone on this planet. Honestly how seriously can anyone take this God’s claim to care about everyone? Beyond this terribly long wait for God to speak one also finds that God is fairly inept when it comes to actually making what he means clear. Wars are constantly waged over the meaning of his words. Numerous books with conflicting messages are written that claim to be inspired by him. Religions split, various sects are formed and numerous denominations are created over God’s obvious lack of clarity. So now this God has left us 3 branches of Judaism, 2 sects in Islam and around 38,000 denominations in Christianity. Truly could anything be clearer then the fact that this God is amazingly unclear about what he wants and what we should know. It really is astonishing that those who believe in the bible thinks it serves as a positive witness to God’s desire to communicate with humanity when it is so painfully obvious that it exposes the exact opposite about their God.
This paragraph is vital to my critic of the Charger’s God who by merely being a better teacher could have reduced the amount of human suffering throughout history. The Charger believes his God has taught things to the world through scripture and so he turns to the bible to argue what his God wills or teaches. But if the bible is God’s word to humanity one must then question how well was it written, how effective has it been in spreading accurate knowledge and how accessible has it been to a majority of humanity? I am calling into question the Christian scripture’s effectiveness, accuracy and accessibility all of which have very obvious connections to my point. And the theists inability to agree on what their God says/teaches along with the numerous scientific errors that fill their scripture only strengths my accusation that their God is either unwilling or unable to teach humanity about the world in which we live and about things that would greatly reduce human suffering the way a good God would desire.
In this section I continued to argue that God bears part of the responsibility for the poor choices humanity has made with the free will he gave them especially knowing what they would do with it. I mention how no human parent receives the free pass from bearing any responsibility for their children’s mistakes that the Charger is handing to his God. He does not respond to this point rather he merely address one example I gave about parents stopping their kids from running out into the street where he again misses the point of the example. The point is there is a difference between being able to make a decision and actualizing a decision and one can bear the responsibility of making a poor choice even if they were unable to actualize that choice. So God could have maintained our libertarian free will without allowing all the horrors and suffering that have occurred in human history.
The Value of Free Will
The main issue here is that the Charger and I disagree upon the ultimate value of free will and how free will can be defined.
First I pointed out that not being able to make “evil” choices would not end humanity’s free will rather there would simply be certain choices no longer to be made. Choosing to sin would become like choosing to breathe underwater or fly, one simply would not be able to do it. Again this would not destroy a person’s free will because it would not be taking away all the decision a person could make. The Charger disagrees he says, “libertarian free will says that person X always has the ability to choose from multiple alternatives. The idea is that nothing is determined. So in every situation, X has the ability to choose from several options. Obviously, the opposite of libertarian free will is determinism, which asserts that every decision is determined based on something else. Thus, the Worrywart is completely wrong—without free will, every action is predetermined.” The Charger again confuses what I said. I did not say we would not have free will but again that only certain choices would no longer be possible. There would still be multiple alternatives and several options for people to choose from it would just mean certain outcomes would no longer be possible.
Basically the Charger wants a certain type of libertarian (incompatiblism) free will, which is fine and he notes the opposite of that would be determinism but what he does not mention is the fact that those are not the only two choices. Many philosophers, theologians and theists do not believe in incompatiblist theories of free will but rather in compatiblist theories of free will which find more ways to reconcile the conflicts between free will and determinism. The Charger’s asserts that, “without free will (as mentioned above), every decision is meaningless to them. You have no real decisions.” And this assertion is simply false and many theists would agree with me on that point.
Also if the Charger wants to maintain his argument then he would need to address the fact that as a Christian theist by believing in scripture and the Christian story he in fact affirms that many things have been predetermined and that no matter how many free choices he makes the overall story of history has already been written, which he cannot affect or change.
At the end of this section I also said that all people don’t have the same amount of “free will” though I clearly noted that by that I mean freedoms. If a person is illiterate they cannot choose to read a book. If a person is in a cage they cannot choose to go for a walk. If a person lives in ancient Rome they cannot choose to fly on an airplane. And if a person lived before Jesus they could not choose to become Christians. So yes the amount of freedoms a person has and thus the amount of choices they can make does vary from person to person and culture to culture. The Charger’s denial of this does not change the fact that he, like myself, has had far more freedoms and thus choices then a majority of the people who has ever existed on this planet and that his beliefs have been affected as much by when and where he was born as any personal choice he has made.
This section remains pointless I only bring it up for one reason which is to correct an error the Charger made where he claimed I said something that I, in fact did not say. The Charger writes, “The Worrywart asserts that this section is theological and that I have never proven that Christ was raised from the dead.” I did say this section was theological but I never said that the Charger hadn’t proven Christ was raised from the dead. I never even said that he had to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead. All I said was that it was premature to get into this topic (resurrection/atonement) at this time. Where the Charger got this idea I do not know but the fact is I didn’t say it and this topic still doesn’t matter.
Animal Suffering and Natural Evils
This section seems to continue to be one the Charger simply cannot get a handle on. The Charger continues to think he can claim human rebellion as the cause of animal suffering and natural disasters. This doesn’t work for two reasons. First there remains no logical or necessary connection between evil moral choices made by humans and animal suffering or natural disasters. Second the natural history of the planet makes that connection impossible. The story of Adam and Eve is obviously a myth not an account of what literally happened on this earth. As I wrote in my last piece, “The earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old (not 6,000 years like Genesis says) while modern humans (homo sapiens) are around 180,000 years old. Earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, and all of forms of natural evils were happening long before human beings ever existed. Likewise animals were hurting and killing one another before we ever came along so the story of the Garden provides the theist (Christian theist) nothing for answering these questions.” The point is that animal suffering and natural disasters were occurring long before any human beings existed making any connection between those things and human action impossible.
The Charger also makes an odd comment on animal suffering. He says, “almost all animal suffering is in a category of its own. Think about it—for every deer that’s killed, there’s a very happy mountain lion or wolf. (It’s almost like fans of opposing teams who pray that the other team will lose.) The deer “prays” every night that a nice plant awaits its consumption, while the mountain lion “prays” for a large plump deer. Logically speaking, for every animal that is killed by another animal, there is enough survival made up from the predator that, in the big picture, the equation comes out as zero. ” This makes absolutely no sense. The “happiness” of one animal does not negate the suffering of another like some math equation any more than the “happiness” of a rapist negates the suffering of the victim who was raped or the “joy” of a robber negates the suffering of the victim who was robbed. Further there are animals that suffer that provide no “happiness” to some other animal, like a fawn dying in a forest fire or a baby bird falling out of its nest. Suffering in the animal category is no different than in the human category though in Western history we tend to care less about animals then in the East.
Then continuing with the category of natural evil the Charger seems to remain confused. Natural evil is a term that has been used historically just to describe natural events that occur that end up causing suffering. These were events that for a majority of history were directly connected to the hand of God. If an earthquake happened it was because God literally caused it to happen. The question then became why did he cause it to happen? Most people do not look at natural disasters like this anymore, as directly connected to the hand of God. But the issue remains basically the same. If God created the world he either causes or allows these events to happen, which create great damage and suffering so why does he do that? What moral decision that a person makes requires an earthquake as a response? What did Japan do to warrant the tsunami it received? We know now, thanks to science (not God), why these events actually happen and how they have shaped the earth and we know they were happening a long time before humans or any life existed on this earth so once again the Charger’s attempt to connect these events (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc) to human rebellion and the corruption of some sort of perfect earth that God created which did not have these types of events obviously fails.
The Charger just cannot seem to comprehend this and again attempts to say my acceptance of what we scientifically know about the earth and rejection of the biblical account of Genesis creates a straw-man fallacy. I truly don’t think the Charger understands what a straw-man argument actually is based on how he continues to use the term nor does he seem willing to acknowledge how many theistic philosophers accept science over scripture in this case. (Click here to read a great essay by Michael Shermer that displays how ridiculous the Genesis account of creation is when taken literally with what we know scientifically)
This section is obviously one, similar to the section on the evidential problem of evil, where the Charger just has no legitimate answers to the actual problems being presented and thus it remains one of his weakest sections.
IV) Naturalism and Good and Evil
Like many of the previous sections this is one where the Charger and I simply disagree. His understanding of naturalism is clearly limited. One does not need a God in order to support morality. In fact it can be argued that theism is in fact the weaker of the two systems when it comes to propagating a good morality.
I have written about the issue of morality without God and one can read that here. I have also posted a few other essays by philosophers dealing with that same issue. Here is one written by Elizabeth Anderson who explores the issue of morality within a naturalist system. She astutely observes that the main objection to naturalism from religious believers is not scientific but rather moral. The fact is that scientifically speaking the evidence for God’s existence is little to non-existent so it is in fact this moral objection that is of utmost value for the theist. If they can prove morality is impossible without God they at least have a reason to continue to believe in their God even if there are no other scientific or rational reasons for their belief. In this essay Anderson addresses this “moralistic argument” by theists and demonstrates its weaknesses particularly given the historical evidence we have. Here is another essay written by philosopher Kai Nielsen who likewise deals with the issue of morality without God. He demonstrates that morality cannot in fact be based in religion. For whether God exists or not an individual’s sense of right and wrong must always logically precede that individual’s religious beliefs. Basically one cannot argue God is good without first already having some standard of what is good by which to make this claim. As Nielsen puts it, “A moral understanding must be logically prior to any religious assent.” Nielsen’s essay is fairly long and involved dealing with the multiple rejections to his assertions and should be read on its own to be fully understood and appreciated.
To me the fact is that the theist’s moral objection to naturalism exposes more moral shortcomings of theism than naturalism. What I love about the naturalist system is it allows one to value humanity first and base one’s morality upon human worth. In the theistic system some version of an all-powerful God (yes it’s always changing) is not only the source of morality but apparently the only reason to be moral. The Charger cannot understand why one would not rape a 13 year old girl if God did not exist and I cannot help but wonder why the Charger needs some sort of invisible being to bribe/threaten him in order not to rape a 13 year old girl? (The Charger made a claim that naturalism as a system would view an act of rape as good. This again demonstrates the Charger’s lack of understanding of naturalism as naturalism does not imply, support or call for that action) The fact remains that the theist seems to concede based on their own objections to naturalism that without their God and his bribe of heaven and threat of hell they would chose to harm others without remorse. And history shows us that even with their God (often because of him) they still frequently chose to harm others without remorse.
Moral ambiguity becomes an even bigger problem when one examines one of the Charger’s main claims when dealing with the problem of evil; he argued “there must be some greater good humanity cannot see or understand behind human suffering.” If this statement is true than the Charger cannot even confirm whether we should or should not help those who suffer. Should we aid the victims of the tsunami in Japan? According to the Charger’s assertion the tsunami must be the source of some greater good but that means if we help those who are suffering we could be interfering with that “greater good” and would limit the value of their suffering. One could even argue that we should in fact cause others to suffer as it would have to bring about “greater goods.” The logical possibility of a greater good behind suffering can become nothing more than a reason to be immoral and uncaring.
Another problem with basing morality upon God is that the Charger and every other theist does not and cannot know what the will of their God actually is as history has proven. Thus even if their God were necessary for morality (he isn’t) he would remain useless. The theists only have conflicting scriptures that can be and have been interpreted in thousands of different ways to mean thousands of different things along with their own personal feelings about what God is telling them as individuals all of which leads to conflicting and often immoral messages. History exposes the theist’s God for what he is when it comes being a source of morality; worthless.
So while the Charger seems not to understand why I care about the suffering of others without his God (basically without being bribed or threatened) I can tell him that I do care and that it is a lot easier to care now that I don’t have to worry about what his God wants rather than about what is right. The theist, unlike the naturalist, must always worry about their God’s will over the actual needs and worth of other people. If their God says kill the theist must kill while the naturalist can decide whether the action is truly right. At some point every theist must decide what is more important to them being a good person or being a good theist (Christian/Muslim/Jew) because the fact is that the two are not always the same and one does not necessarily include the other as history can easily show us. The naturalist has the ability to seek being a good person first and foremost while the theist must seek to be a good theist and then assume (hope) that makes them a good person. The fact is I cannot pretend to respect a God who can and has made any act morally good and cares more about his own self-glorification than the well being of the majority of humans who have every existed. It was not until I rejected God that I gained the freedom to try and do what was actually right in every situation rather than merely what God wanted.
One does not need any sort of God to support or maintain morality. This can be shown true both logically and historically. Nor does one need some invisible and silent deity in order to care about the other people on this planet. The fact is naturalism is by far more rational than theism scientifically speaking and unlike what theists’ claim it is not lacking when it comes to being a foundation for morality. At the end of the day the theist needs someone to tell them to care about other people and if that someone is not there then they by their own arguments admit they would not care and would do nothing more than whatever seemed to serve their own best interest at the moment. The theist may not understand why a naturalist chooses to do what is right without God but sadly the naturalist fully understands the reason the theist chose to do what is right (or often wrong), it’s because they believe they were “told” to.
As I said in the beginning, when looking at the overall path of this dialog between the Charger and I it has not ended up being as helpful a piece for those interested in exploring the Problem of Evil as I had originally hoped. Far less was actually discussed than I expected when this conversation begun. Due to multiple false assumptions, misunderstood arguments and simple avoidance of the actual problems the Charger and I were unable to cover much ground in our attempt to deal with the Problem of Evil. The Charger began his last conclusion saying “I believe that I have answered all of the Worrywart’s objections. His arguments have caused me a lot of thought—and caused me to grow intellectually. However, I believe that the Worrywart’s two arguments have been defeated.” And while I’m glad he said some of what I wrote caused him to think I still have no clue why he feels he answered all my objections or “defeated” my two arguments. First because I had more than two arguments and second because the only argument he actually dealt with directly and fully was the logical problem of evil. He continued to either misunderstand or avoid the evidential problem of evil and never actually dealt with my objections to and the overall weaknesses of his various theodicies.
The Charger’s responses in this discussion have provided no rational reason to believe in his God rather all they have provided are stop-gap arguments (logically possibilities) to protect a preexisting belief in his deity. Further, despite what the Charger claims the Problem of Evil is not merely a rational problem that can be limited to deductive games of logic. Until one is willing to step down out of the clouds and place themselves in the shoes of actual human beings who are going through (or went through) true horrors and pain and listen to their ideas as to why we are here and what the meaning behind suffering is than one cannot pretend to have actually dealt with or even really pondered the Problem of Evil. One must spend a day in the life of a Japanese woman in the Nara period; or as a man in the Sudra caste in 18th century India; or as a Jew exiled from England in the 13th century or blamed for the Black Death in the 14th century; or as a West African riding on a Spanish slave ship across the Atlantic Ocean after being sold into slavery by fellow African dealers before one can offer any answer to the Problem of Evil. One must also deal with the religious and philosophical traditions of other cultures and time periods that address issues of suffering. One must examine Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching and his teachings on the perfect individual; or the Upanishads investigation into human consciousness; or Buddhism’s four noble truths, which all deal directly with suffering. The Western theist cannot ignore these systems of thought or the lives of the people who lived in those systems and then pretend to have dealt with the Problem of Evil. If one examines the things these people experienced and likely believed as well as the things that they most certainly did not (and could not) believe and place them next to the Charger’s God I believe one finds a fairly limited God who cannot rationally be described as “all-good.”
The point is the theist ultimately has no answer to the problem of evil beyond what is “logically possible.” They always begin with some sort of rational justification for their beliefs but always end up with a call for faith. “We can’t understand everything so we need to just trust God.” Of course the God they want us to trust is the one who promises to save them while destroying the majority of the rest of us. I guess it makes sense why most theists will not question their God because why question the rationality or morality of a being who promises to give you heaven no matter how many people he sends to hell? In faith the Charger says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25) This is a faith claim that I once shared and believed and as a faith claim it is certainly not something I can argue against but for me the ultimate problem remains that what he is affirming, and what I used to affirm, is that "his" (previously mine) Redeemer lives. And I cannot ignore what seems to me the inherent selfishness and heartlessness that is built into that statement. At the end of the day the theist is willing to trust that there is a good reason for all the suffering, both temporal and eternal, that people go through because eventually they get compensated for their pains while the rest of us receive endless torment unequal to any crime we could have committed.
Now theism will always maintain certain advantages over naturalism that no amount of reason can deal with. Humanity’s fear of death remains one of the greatest motivations for being a theist as well as human tendencies to exclusivism but that does not make the Charger’s God a rational probability or a moral necessity. Instead the Charger’s God remains only a logical possibility who prefers illogical faith to rational acceptance and who is obviously filled with moral deficiencies.
With that said I still want to thank the Charger for taking the time to dialog with me. It certainly forced me to put more time into researching this topic than I had done in the last few years since I walked away from my Christian faith and that introduced me to some great new ideas from both sides of this debate.
For those interested in better sources dealing with the Problem of Evil here is a link that provides access to a website containing multiple essays, articles and debates (both current and historical) concerning the Problem of Evil and various theodicies. I have used some of these essays in my arguments but there are many more sources here that I have yet to read. I have found it to be a great site to find sources written from both perspectives (naturalist and theist) on this topic. This website also has material that deals with issues like Faith vs. Reason, Separation of Church and State, Arguments for the Existence of God, Morality/Ethics and so on.