Responding to David Wood (part 1)

I will respond to David Wood's review of our debate on evil in parts. David Wood points out that our debate proposition could’ve been different. We could’ve debated each other on any one of five propositions:

1)The extent of suffering in our world poses an interesting problem for theists, since God is said to be all-powerful and wholly good.

2)The extent of suffering in our world is at least some evidence against theism.

3)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God improbable.

4)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God implausible.

5)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God impossible.

We debated proposition #4 above.

Just what the difference is between propositions #3 and #4 isn’t immediately clear to me, but David thinks there is a big difference between the two. What is the difference between the words “improbable” and “implausible?” Any thesaurus will show that a synonym for the word “improbable” is the word “implausible” and vice versa. I suspect he merely wants to use rhetoric in showing a bigger gap than is necessary between the first and the last potential debate propositions in order to show I had a bigger burden than I really had. Of this 4th proposition Mr. Wood claims that “the skeptic needs to show that the evidence drawn from the problem of evil not only outweighs the evidence for God’s existence, but that one side of the scale almost drops to the floor.” If that is what he thinks, then he should’ve stated this in the debate itself so we could discuss exactly what our respective claims were. But he didn’t.

I do think the problem of evil outweighs other nebulous philosophical arguments on behalf of the philosophers’ god, which is the very best view of God that such arguments can lead a person to accept anyway. And I do think the problem of evil outweighs the historical claims of miracles in the Bible coming from an ancient pre-scientific superstitious people. However, I do object to this burden of proof he’s now throwing upon me. He never stated this in the debate itself. Why does he do so now?

David is correct that I didn't throw the burden of proof in his lap, and I don’t now. We each share our own burden of proof. The particular burden of proof in any debate will always depend upon the wording of the debate proposition that we both agreed to. I would’ve agreed to this debate proposition: “The extent of suffering in our world does not make the existence of God implausible,” with me taking the negative side. To me these are equivalent propositions, and it puts into better light what each of us needed to show. The question was this: “Whether, given the extent of suffering in our world, it’s implausible that God exists.” The way the proposition is actually stated, David must give reasons why suffering does not make implausible the existence of God. What I did not have to show is that his side of the argument is outweighed by the problem of evil so much that his side “almost drops to the floor.” That is an unreasonable standard not only for the debate proposition itself, but also for nearly any inductive argument.

David states I am “claiming that a certain argument has the power to effectively refute theism.” Where does he get that out of the proposition itself? The proposition never said I must refute his position. I just don’t see it. He goes on to state that “if an inconsistency, or an unproven assumption, or a false premise is found somewhere in his (John’s) argument, then he must show that his argument can be modified so that it avoids this problem. Otherwise, he has not proven that we should answer the topic question in the affirmative.” But again, where in the debate proposition does he get the impression that if I have not “proven” my case that I lose the debate based upon the wording of the proposition itself? I would never have agree to that standard of proof. And he never argued for such a standard in the debate itself. So why does he do so now?

In David’s own words he claims that all he needed to show was that “the evidence gained from suffering isn’t so utterly strong that it removes all plausibility from the claim that God exists.” But why does he add the word “all” here, as in “removes all plausibility?” I don’t see it in the debate proposition itself, do you?

With that as a background, no wonder he claims he thinks he can show me wrong, “rather easily.” Again, in his words: “ light of certain difficulties with the argument from evil, I don’t see how John could possibly demonstrate so lofty a conclusion.” But as we’ve just seen, I don’t see why I had to demonstrate such a conclusion at all.


DagoodS said...

Peculiar. I, too, thought the differences between Proposition 3 and 4 were unclear. In fact, when I first read that, I thought Mr. Wood had inadvertently switched them!

“Plausible” generally means something that appears to be true on its face, although not necessarily true. Later facts can make a plausible explanation very implausible indeed. Anyone hearing a debate or reading a discussion will see one side’s position first and think, “That is plausible.” Upon reading the other or further research, that position can change rapidly.

Frankly, I would be concerned about debating someone who felt their level of burden of proof was only to “plausible.” I fear that would be too easily met. (If you see my history, I tend to use the qualifier “MORE plausible.”)

“Probable” means likely to occur. I would think this is slightly greater than “plausible.” Instead of just something that appears true on its face, it is an explanation that fits with what we are familiar with. It may not quite reach the level of an explanation that is more likely to be true than otherwise, but it seems to be more than “plausible.”

If I were to write a spectrum:

1) Possible (anything logically feasible);
2) Plausible (appears true on its face)
3) Probable (likely to occur)
4) Preponderate (more likely than not)

Reasonably, the best one could expect in a debate would be “preponderate.” The claim that the “scale hits the floor” in somewhere north of “beyond a reasonable doubt”! Like you, I don’t mind the burden of proof, but I like to be careful with the level of proof. If I hold my opponent to a higher level, it seems suspicious.

It seems Mr. Wood holds the word “plausible” to a much higher standard than I ever would have thought.

John W. Loftus said...

Peculiar. In your view of the words involved I had even less of a burden of proof. I like it.

In any case there was nothing about the actual proposition that requires anything of the sort of proof he thinks it does.

Hallq said...

Gut instinct on the definitions, I would say that "improbable" and "implausible" mean pretty much the same thing in this context, except improbable uses the language of probability theory, implies you can assign a number to it.

The Shogun said...


Look at what you've just said, because it's exactly what I said. Your hierarchy goes: (1) Possible (easiest to prove), (2) Plausible (next easiest to prove), and (3) Probable (more than likely to occur). Now negate them. And you've got (1) Impossible (most difficult to prove), (2) Implausible (next most difficult to prove, and (3) Improbable (less than a probability of .5). John's job in the debate was to show that the existence of God is implausible because of evil. For something to be implausible means that it's not plausible. That's a stronger claim than saying something is improbable.

If, for instance, I have three possible outcomes, one with a probability of .3, another with a probability of .4, and still another with a probability of .3, all of these possibilities will be improbable, but none of them would be implausible. Thus, to show that the existence of God is implausible bears a greater burden of proof because it is a stronger claim.

interlocutor said...

I've never really been particularly attracted to the problem of evil as an atheological argument.

In a nutshell, what argument did you make, evidential or logical?

John W. Loftus said...

The following definitions and synonyms were taken from Encarta World Dictionary and from

Synonyms: doubtful, questionable, unbelievable, incredible…
Definitions, hard to believe: hardly likely to be true; difficult to believe; not plausible; not having the appearance of truth or credibility; highly imaginative but unlikely; having a quality that provokes disbelief.

Synonyms: Unlikely, doubtful, questionable, unbelievable, dubious, incredible….
Definitions: difficult to believe: not likely to happen or to be true; not likely to be true or to occur or to have occurred; having a probability too low to inspire belief; too improbable to admit of belief; "a tall story"; hard to believe.

Notice that both words share some of the same synonyms.
Notice also that both words share some of the same definitions.

Here is a test case in semantics. Words mean what the speaker understands them to mean. Dictionaries can only tell us what the general population understands by the words included in it. It does not give us technical specialized definitions, nor does it try to give idiosyncratic definitions, because people can legitimately use words in sub-standard ways inside their own sub-set cultures and communities. Just ask Christians what the word “church” means and we see the point here.

And as such here also is a test case in establishing debate propositions. We must define our terms. This should have taken place before the debate began and we both fell short of doing this. Perhaps neither one of us wanted to waste our time by doing this in the debate itself, each hoping that we agreed about the definition of the terms of the of the debate proposition. Aristotle reportedly said something to the effect that “many a dispute could be solved if those involved just defined their terms.”

Finally here is a test case in the principle of charity too, which states that before we take issue with an argument we should attribute the best possible interpretation to our opponent lest we attack a straw man. In this case the best possible interpretation of the word “implausible” should not mean what David claims it to mean without getting my prior consent. There is no way I would have given this prior consent. The best possible interpretation of the word “implausible,” without actually agreeing beforehand about what the word means, should be to assume it means pretty much the same things as stated above. This means it isn’t much different than the word “improbable,” even though David is correct that there seems to be some nuances which indicate it is a stronger word than the word “improbable.”

John W. Loftus said...

Interlocuter, stay tuned. I have another debate coming up so I'm saving it. In the meantime you can either buy the DVD or you can buy my revised book from

DagoodS said...

The Shogun

You are absolutely correct. Fairly clever word game.

If you will permit me to re-phrase the Proposition to accentuate where I inadvertently modified the statement (I believe it maintains the integrity of the premise):

1. The extent of suffering in our world renders implausible that God* exists.
2. The extent of suffering in our world renders plausible that God does not exist.

At first blush those two statements may seem similar, but as this blog discussion has pointed out, in fact the first has an extremely high level of proof, whereas the second has an extremely low level of proof. I incorrectly transposed statement 1 to statement 2 in my mind, thus my error.

I would hope (and prefer) that rather fostering an extremely high level of proof on our opponent, or assuming an extremely low level of proof for ourselves, we could reach some sort of middle ground. (I always suggest “more likely than not” or preponderate, but most theists seem to shy away from that.)

However if I am extremely lucky, we will soon reach the point where debates require lawyers negotiating long contracts in which numerous hours are spent (and billed) in which each person attempts to shift the burden of proof and raise the bar on the level of proof for one’s opponent while lowering the bar for oneself.

Let me dream, will ya?

The lesson learned is to be extremely careful over very precise wording in debate propositions.

Since you are here, I do have two questions, if you would be so kind:

1) Would you have agreed to the debate if the Proposition was “The extent of suffering in our world makes the non-existence of God plausible”? Why or why not?

2) The thing that always puzzles me in these arguments is “Implausible to whom?” Who is the person that makes that determination that suffering in the world renders God’s existence implausible?

*I am assuming “God” is defined as a solely moral God. Since this proposition is easily quashed by merely asserting an evil, deistic or God that can perform moral, immoral or non-moral acts.

Daniel said...


I find that interesting. Is it because you have a hard time assigning value to human suffering?

The Shogun said...


I’m not sure why you’re making a big deal about the distinction between “implausible” and “improbable,” since nothing in my case depends on it. But before you say, “Yes it does,” let me explain.

I use the term “improbable” (and I defined how I was using it in my review) to mean “has a probability of less than .5.” I use the term “implausible” to mean “not plausible,” i.e. something that doesn’t seem like there’s a good chance that it’s true. The problem here is that some people use “improbable” as a synonym for “implausible,” that is, they use it to mean that there isn’t a good chance that something is true. This is fine, and it’s fine if you want to use it this way, but the only effect on my article would be that I would change my wording. It wouldn’t help your case at all.

Suppose there are four possible outcomes of something, and that they are all equally probable. They would each have a probability of .25. As I use the term, each of these outcomes would be improbable, because each would have a probability of less than .5. But none of the outcomes would be implausible, for they would all be quite plausible states of affairs.

Now you point out that some people consider these terms to be synonyms, and that’s correct. But here we must note that when some people say “improbable,” they really mean something much stronger than what I mean by the same word. But I’ll go ahead and grant that they’re synonyms. This doesn’t change the fact that your claim was a very strong one. You weren’t claiming that the extent of suffering in the world means that the existence of God has a probability of less than .5. You mean that it’s something that doesn’t seem like there’s a good chance that it could be true. This is why I said that one side of the balance needs to drop to the floor. When you say that the extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God implausible, you mean that when suffering is placed on one side of the scale, it outweighs everything else by far. I don’t see how you can deny this. If, for instance, you’re only saying that suffering makes the probability of God .4 or less, can you really call this implausible? If two football teams are competing, and one is a little better, we might say that team X has a .6 chance of winning while team Y has a .4 chance of winning. But would we say that it is implausible that team Y will win? Of course not. It is still quite plausible that team Y will win. It just isn’t probable.

Thus, if you’re going to use the term “implausible,” you have to mean something quite strong. And if you’re saying that the existence of God is implausible, you need to show that it is implausible. I don’t see how anyone could possibly do this, but this only shows that the argument from evil can’t do all it’s supposed to do (and this was what I was trying to show in the debate). In other words, if all you were really trying to show in the debate is that you have some reason for being an atheist, you can certainly say that. But that doesn’t mean you’ve shown what was stated in the proposition.

But besides all of this, let me say that I’m not trying to evade any burden of proof. I don’t think atheists can show that suffering is any significant threat to theism, let alone something that makes theism improbable or implausible. But we have to take our debate propositions seriously, and I think you’re the one who suggested this topic. If I agree to debate the proposition, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument Proves the Existence of God Conclusively,” my job is to show exactly that. I can’t simply argue that it makes the existence of God highly probable, because that’s not what I’m supposed to be defending. Similarly, if you agree to debate the proposition “The Extent of Suffering in the World Makes the Existence of God Implausible,” you can’t just state the argument from evil. You have to show that it actually does what you say it does, and this means that it can’t have any serious flaws, such as inconsistencies or unproven assumptions.

The Shogun said...


I think you brought up two very important points, and I’ll mention three things.

First, I’m not placing any unreasonable burden of proof on my opponent. Many atheists really believe that suffering makes the existence of God implausible—that is, they think that it completely outstrips all theistic arguments combined. If an atheist agrees to put this belief to the test, I don’t see how I’m trying to be unfair when I accept the challenge.

Second, you pointed out that there’s a big difference between proving that X is implausible and proving that ~X is plausible. I agree completely. Would I have debated the topic “Does the extent of suffering in our world make the non-existence of God plausible”? That depends on what we mean here. If we mean that, if we ignore everything else about the world and focus exclusively on suffering, the non-existence of God is plausible, I might agree with the atheist. But if we mean that, all things considered, suffering makes the non-existence of God plausible, I’d have to disagree. But even here, I wouldn’t strongly disagree. And I might not be interested in debating a proposition that I don’t strongly agree or disagree with. However, if atheists are willing to admit that the argument from evil isn’t as strong as they think it is, I would be completely willing to debate a more neutral version of the topic. I’m just not sure atheists should do this. Think about it. If atheists say, “We only want to debate whether or not suffering provides us with a little bit of evidence against the existence of God,” this is an admission that they don’t have much confidence in the argument from evil. If the argument really works, then defend it. If you know that it doesn’t accomplish much, don’t go around acting as if you’ve got a slam-dunk argument.

Third, you pointed out that we need to be clear on what we mean by “implausible.” Implausible to whom? As I took it, John meant that any rational person should recognize that the existence of God is implausible, since there’s obviously so much suffering in the world. I tried to take a small stab at this in my closing statement, where I gave some of my testimony. Why should a person who has seen God act in marvelous ways be persuaded by the argument from evil? I don’t think theists should be persuaded by this argument. But if theists shouldn’t find this argument persuasive, then the argument from evil doesn’t make the existence of God implausible.

openlyatheist said...

ATTN: Daniel and interlocutor

Since the subject has come up, I have stated elsewhere that I don't consider the PoE to be a strong argument, (I stated some more clear reasons on JWL's "preparing for debate w/ D. Wood" thread, but I can't find it now).

Anyway, to be clear, I don't consider it a strong argument to use on Christians because I think it is them who "have a hard time assigning value to human suffering." According to the Christian worldview, human life is inherently meaningless and vile, which is prerequisite the to entire notion that humanity needs the salvation of Christ. Once a Christian accepts that proposition, the suffering of human beings seems to have little impact. Observe:

The Shogun said: "Why should a person who has seen God act in marvelous ways be persuaded by the argument from evil?"

Indeed, there is something about the way Christians see their god, as doing something for them, that seems to dull their sympathy toward those for whom their god does nothing. I think it is because people tend not to question what benefits them.

On the other hand, I think the PoE is the most common reason I have heard from ex-Christians regarding their deconversions. But I have only heard of ex-C's being moved by the PoE due to their own introspections on human suffering, almost never because they heard it from an atheist.

I don't believe the Wicked Witch of the West is unreal because I disagree with her character. I believe she is unreal because she doesn't exist/is a work of fiction. But even if I confused this fictional character for reality, and disagreed with her character, well, have you seen Wicked? It doesn't take much to make a bad guy into a good guy.

Which brings me to the whole folly of arguing about the characteristics of a fictional being: If you read Plantinga for instance, (where's Dave Armstrong when I need him?), you'll see that the whole thing is about who gets to control the vocabulary. Words like 'omniscient' and 'omnipotent' are the Christians' intellectual property; those words mean whatever apologists want them to mean. So when the proverbial atheist formulates the PoE contrary to Christianity the apologist (Plantinga specifically) steps in saying, "Yes, omnipotent, but not in the way the atheist says," and, "Yes, omniscient, but not in the way the atheist says," then proceeds to rewrite the terms to get the desired result. And to ice the cake, they can claim it is the atheist who is misrepresenting their copywritten Christian terms from the get go. So I think apologists come out appearing on top statistically because, hey, it's their god, so it's their definitions.

Whether or not one recognizes this retconning purely as the work of human philosophers is a major factor in one's religious preference, I think.

billf said...

Openlyatheist: Well said. The PoE has always seemed like atheism's best argument to me. But if the theist can't see or 'assign value' to evil in the world, the PoE argument is useless.

Your comments remind me of an incident that happened to me long ago. I was walking to my car, and some small bits of paper were being blown around my feet. It was a windy day. I walked past this trash, and it suddenly hit me. One of those bits of trash looked familiar for some reason. I turned around to look, and one of those pieces of paper blowing past me was green, and had a president on it. It was a twenty. Pretty cool. My dad who was with me at the time said "God is smiling on you today."

I don't think either one of us gave any thought to the poor slob who lost the twenty. Douglas Adams might have called it a micro SEP field. Somebody Else's Problem. It is invisible; It can't be seen. It does not matter.

Christians have been programmed to ignore Evil events. It is something that happens to those other guys, not to them. Even when it does happen to them, they ignore it. Their home gets flattened by a tornado, or they were in a car accident, and the typical response is "God was looking out for me and I didn't die in this tornado/fire/car accident." It never even occurs to most of them to wonder why they were involved at all or ask why god hated the other guy who did get killed or maimed. Why does god hate people who live in mobile homes? Or does god just hate poor people in general, and poor people who live in coastal areas especially?

Rich said...

The reason the P of E doesn't affect my belief is as follows. For us to learn the difference between pain and suffering and the absence of such is to experience pain and suffering. It's not so much ignoring them as it is appreciating their value to me for learning to avoid choices that bring them upon me. Not all pain and suffering is a result of my choices, I have a nasty reminder of that on my foot from a hot water with chemical burn from a fellow employee. There are countless other, and far worse, examples of this. joy becomes much sweeter because we understand sorrow. Good health is more appreciated because we get sick. I don't see how we could really understand such things without phsycally experiencing them. You have to admit that working for something has much more meaning to you then having the same thing given to you. When you work to buy things for yourself, you tend to have more respect for other peoples property because you understand what they may have gone through to aquire it. You understand what its like to believe and have faith in God because you did once have that as part of you.
Experience is the best teacher and can't be replaced. By god allowing us to experience pain, suffering, and sorrow, he knows that will be to our benifit in the long run and we will appreciate joy much more because we know the other side of the coin.
We must experience evil to fully understand Good. So to me evil not as much a problem as it is necessary for my growth as a person. As a kid I did many stupid things that as an adult I wonder how I made it this far. I just can't see how God could instill in someone the kinds of lessons we learn from the school of hard knocks. overcoming the problem of evil depends onthe hope for better. That better comes after this life, so I can see how the unbelief in the afterlife makes the problem insurmountable.

Daniel said...


Nicely put. I like "retcon" -- I think I'll start using it in daily conversation.


I agree -- theists must ignore the amount of pointless suffering and the innate cruelty of our world in order to go from day to day with faith in a "loving Father".


What you have basically done here is reiterate a very old theodicy called the "contrast theodicy", which is also very similar in reasoning to the "privation of good" theodicy -- first formulated by Augustine. The argument is basically that evil is necessary because without it, there would be either i) no metaphysical existence of "good" [or no way to define it], ii) no human cognizance of "good", iii) no benefits attained by "good".

Almost all modern philosophers reject the idea that, metaphysically, good and evil are contingent upon the human experience of suffering. That is, good and evil either exist or they do not. If they do, they exist in an objective fashion which does not require human participation. Otherwise, good and evil are metaphysically subjective.

Now, if you really believe all of this nonsense about either (ii) or (iii), then what you're saying is that it is somehow better for human beings to suffer, and then be glad they aren't suffering [good = privation of evil, evil = privation of good: contrast] than for them to never have suffered at all.

This is silly for a few reasons, but let me point out one obvious thing: if you take this logic to its conclusion, you will inevitably lead to concluding that you ought to make yourself and others suffer...because it's better for you/them. So you should expose infants and children and yourself and everyone else to every imaginable torture and deprivation of pleasure possible, because otherwise...they can't experience true happiness/pleasure!

What you're claiming is that an innocent, sheltered, well-protected and cared-for child is actually in a worse state (metaphysically) than one who has been molested, physically abused, emotionally devastated...because only the latter one can know how good it is not to experience those things, and thus is the only one which can enjoy true/deep/meaningful happiness when those things are not present.

The contrast theodicy calls us all to seek out suffering like oasis in the desert -- otherwise, our lives, our experiences, our happiness and pleasures...all of those things are shallow and meaningless. We must add to them, to their value, via pain and evil.

Simply put, this is quite ludicrous. If someone is ignorant, is this not bliss? For instance, if we were just automatically in a heavenly state, rather than ever put on this earth, and we never experienced cancer...nor even knew about it...are we less for it? How is being blissfully unaware of the existence of evil, or of experiencing it, somehow a worse state?

In point of fact, if your contrast is right -- if soul-making and the penultimate goods are only found through suffering, then God is a monster for only allowing us to develop our souls for about 70 years and then putting us in a place which deprives us of those experiences for eternity.

Daniel said...

The problem of evil is the single argument that leads me to atheism. I would otherwise be agnostic.

Daniel said...


PS: Was God "good" before the creation of the world? Before the Incarnation event in 0 AD? If so, then God had no need of the "soul-making machinery" of evil to have its own perfect nature and perfect goodness. If God can be perfect and good without God Itself suffering then why can it not create humans thus?

Rich said...

I understand what you saying and I can see you point of view. I agree that good and evil are not contingent upon human experience, meaning there exsistance. I don't know if I can explain myself very well but I'll try. I am not saying that it is BETTER to suffer, but a necessary step in progression. How do you honestly learn and fully understand the difference between good and bad without experience? There are things I don't have to do to realize they are bad for me. But I do have to obtain a cetain amount of experience doing bad things and reaping the consequences to make the connection mentally. Doesn't a child learn in this fashion? Experimentation? I can't, nor will I try to explain away every evil/bad thing that exsists and say that it is better for us. I mean to say about this that we do learn to appreciate good by experiencing bad, in general terms of speaking. We don't need to expose anyone to every imaginable torture for the experience of true happiness to be true. A paper cut on your finger and a little sweat can help you imagine what a cut with salt pured into it could be like. Do I have to have the later torture for the understanding? Not really.

"What you're claiming is that an innocent, sheltered, well-protected and cared-for child is actually in a worse state (metaphysically) than one who has been molested, physically abused, emotionally devastated...because only the latter one can know how good it is not to experience those things, and thus is the only one which can enjoy true/deep/meaningful happiness when those things are not present."

While its certainly not BETTER for a child to experience these terrible things, it certainly is true the the second child will truely understand the difference while the first child can only guess. I would rather be on the guessing end of that deal by the way, and I am as a matter of fact. So while I am very happy, it didn't take abuse to get me there. Am I talking in circles or is it just me? LOL

Expereincing bad helps understand why it is a better choice to pick good.

John W. Loftus said...

David, when I suggested the word "implausible" I had wondered how much stronger of word it was than the word improbable, without giving it that much thought, but I was being kind to you, since you had agreed to debate the weakest plank of your set of Christian beliefs. I was also grateful for your church's willingness to fund my trip to Norfolk for the debate. So I was probably willing to take a little stronger position to give you a better chance. Okay? But I was not willing to take the extreme stance you now want to hold me to. It's like offering you a piece of cake and for you to turn around and demand all of it without getting any further prior consent. If you will carefully read this Blog entry of mine where you use some very strong phrases, like "one side of the scale almost drops to the floor," "the power to effectively refute theism," "he has not proven his case," and "removes all plausibility," I think you are doing just that.

In any case, the debate proposition could have been that "the extent of suffering makes impossible the existence of God," and you would have probably easily won the debate. Like I said, it doesn't matter too much who won the debate except to the participants themselves, does it? You and I just want others to think we won, correct? I do, and I know you do. But most others don't care that much about who won a debate. They just want to understand the issues on a deeper level. There are still other people who wanted their man to defend what they believe, and neither you nor I wanted to let them down. But if either of us let our respective people down, it probably wouldn't cause them to switch sides, right?

Furthermore, if the proposition was worded this strongly and you won the debate by showing suffering does not make impossible the existence of God, it wouldn't mean much to the watching world. For if the wording of the debate proposition overwhelmingly favors one side, then it means there is less of a victory if that side wins. Correct? To declare you the winner of such a debate would mean very little, precisely because it doesn't mean much at all if all a theist can show is that suffering does not make the existence of God impossible. Most thinking people would say, "So, what's new?"

The important thing to me are the issues themselves. As I said, debates are both entertaining and educational for the people who watch and hear them. If you want others to declare you the winner based upon a standard I did not agree to, then go ahead. But the issues themselves....ah...the issues. They will not go away, my friend. I'm guessing you chose your dissertation topic based upon your desire to get a better handle of those issues, correct? If so, then you yourself admit that the issues I brought up deserve closer attention, regardless of who won the debate. And if that's the case, then what I said made a deeper impact upon you then you're admitting. Besides, I'm not done with you yet! ;-)

You can lay the foundation for others to proclaim you won the debate based upon an interpretation of a word, if you want to do so. But remember, the stronger my burden of proof is, then the less of a victory you gain, if people think you won it at all. People who want to look at the issues themselves will ask themselves who laid out the most plausible case. That's what they are looking for, and plausibility is person related. Plausibility and implausibility have to do with non-reducible personal judgments we each make for our own reasons. So here's another test case in debates. Someone can win a debate based upon the burden of proof in the wording of the debate, and still not present a plausible case for their set of beliefs.

I should have just taken you to the pool hall and soundly beat you in either 8-Ball or 9-Ball after all!

Daniel said...


I would rather be on the guessing end of that deal by the way, and I am as a matter of fact. So while I am very happy, it didn't take abuse to get me there. Am I talking in circles or is it just me?

I think that you just agreed with me with your first sentence, and thus you are talking a bit in circles.

If you agree that not experiencing evil (and thus having to guess) is better than experiencing it and then wiping the sweat of relief off of your brow each moment it doesn't recur, then we've basically just agreed that the soul-making theodicy doesn't work very well.

And again, if God is vested with these same virtues that supposedly come to us *only* by suffering, then God can "cheat" the metaphysical system.

interlocutor said...


While I don't find PoE arguments to be convincing against the existence of a God, I do think evil, per se, is a good reason not to follow a God if one existed.

There are many PoE arguments. Maybe if you tell me which one it is that you think is convincing, I can explain why I do not (if, in fact, I don't think it is convincing).

Daniel said...

I think that evidential arguments just like the one John presented are very good at atrophying faith.

That said, I still think that the attempts to refute the logical PoE via theodicies like free will are ultimately invalid. First, the question of freedom as a given "greater good" is illogical, if God is the greatest good, and if we agree that no evil whatsoever exists if only God exists. Therefore, rescuing God if God chose to introduce evil into Its own existence [given omniscience] when the end result cannot "add" goodness, but, at best, only offsets the evil with the good of freedom, is illogical.

Also, Plantinga cannot make it such that human moral freedom logically entails evil, only that it logically allows for its existence. It is also entirely possible to have free creatures which only choose good things. The question of why God would choose this world, rather than that world, leaves me faithless.

I suppose I cannot reconcile the notion of God with notions of imperfection or anything less than "the highest good" [whatever in the hell that would mean], and therefore, unlike yourself, I could not believe that such a God existed -- following It would never become a question.

interlocutor said...


Usually the logical argument for the PoE is:

1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.

2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
5. Evil exists.
6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn't have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn't know when evil exists, or doesn't have the desire to eliminate all evil.
7. Therefore, God doesn't exist.

The problem, here, is premise six. I think it leaves out an option. What if, instead, it read:

6. "If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn't have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn't know when evil exists, or doesn't have the desire to eliminate all evil, or God has a morally compelling reason for allowing evil to exist."

In other words, it depends on where one begins. If someone believes a morally perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent god exists, then why not interpret evil in terms of that belief? Why not simply say, "If a morally perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent god exists and evil exists, then that god has a morally compelling reason for allowing evil to exist"?

Sure, I wouldn't be convinced by this, but I sure can't prove that it's not the case. It's not unreasonable to believe that a god as described could have a perfectly good reason for allowing the existence of evil that either (1) he hasn't told anyone about or (2) he has told someone about, but we don't understand (or like) his answer.

DagoodS said...

The Shogun,

Thank you for the response.

It still looks like word games to me.

To be fair, I have never formally debated in my life. Perhaps if I ever do, I will look back on this with naiveté and laugh. But I see way too much stock placed in a nuance and microscopic reading of the particulars of the Proposition wording itself, as compared to the big picture of the debate.

From the standpoint of an audience member, I view the Proposition as a description of what the topic is to be, and then listen to the arguments of both sides. Whichever makes the more likely argument prevails.

Seriously, can you envision a person walking out of your debate with the thought, “Wow! That John W. Loftus sure put up some good arguments. He made the existence of God not very likely. He even made it not very probable. But he…just…didn’t…quite make it to the level of ‘not plausible.’ He swung the hammer. The ball went up. It hurled passed “unlikely.” Slowed on “improbable” and then stopped just short of ringing the bell of “implausible.” Too bad. If only he had changed a four letters and a vowel in the Proposition, he would have prevailed. “

I doubt anyone (including myself) ever makes such a fine distinction within a debate. Again, perhaps I am wrong, but it sure seems nit-picky to me.

Besides, this type of post-game word autopsy can go both ways.

For example, you question whether a relativist can have a problem with suffering, without moral absolutes.

But are you being consistent with the Proposition? It clearly indicates “extent of Suffering” as existing. It is a pre-condition to the debate. There was no debate of whether there is extent of suffering, just how it affects the plausibility of the existence of God.

If you concede there is “Suffering” then how can you question later how John Loftus (as a relativist) can say such a thing? You already conceded it in the Proposition! (See how this nit-pickiness on the wording becomes tiring very quickly?)

Perhaps you should have worded it “Incidents of Suffering.” But even that is a concern, since “suffering” has a negative connotation in the English Language. Maybe make it “Perceived incidents of alleged suffering.”

Now our proposition, carefully worded, becomes:

The various, but not necessarily related and not inherently defined “acts” (where “acts” entails actions both natural, supernatural, human, animal and plant related, without reference to intent) of what has been historically perceived (although not necessarily true in fact) as being portrayed in a non-positive description, provides a demonstration, telling, proof, argument, testimony and/or reason that the existence of God is implausible (where “implausible” is a level of proof greater than merely unlikely or improbable, but less than impossible.)

Is that better?

Further, I would note that if we continue with this nit-pickiness, we would have to say (*cough, cough.* Sorry) that John W. Loftus won. Inherent in the proposition is that it is implausible to somebody. I asked who that somebody was, and you said “any rational person.” (Admittedly you qualified it with “John meant…” but you didn’t provide any alternative that this was incorrect.)

Therefore the Proposition read:

The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God implausible to any rational person.

John W. Loftus would only need to convince one (1) rational person to win! (Having already a few atheists that agree, it was a shoo-in.)

I will grant that a fairer reading of what you wrote would have implied that you meant every rational person, not any rational person (and “any” can mean “every” as in “any child can do it.”) But now we are reduced to scrambling for dictionaries and cries of third and fourth definitions and what people really meant.

I hate that. I hate word games. I guess what I am saying is that this debate over “implausible” vs. “improbable” comes across as sour grapes. I would be stunned if any audience member made the distinction.

Daniel said...

I cannot see how the additional clause added to (6) rescues God, given enough analysis.

If God is morally perfect, then God will choose/act/think/bring about not only good things, or even very good things, but only perfect things.

My premise in response to (6) would be [taking 1-5 for granted]:
1) God can only make perfect choices.
2) From (1), God cannot be compelled or motivated to act/allow/bring about/choose anything less than moral perfection.
3) From (2), any choice or act of God must bring about the highest good.
4) The existence of evil subtracts from moral perfection -- it is mutually exclusive with the highest good.
5) Therefore, God does not exist.

I think the analysis of (3) would reveal that God could never be placed in a situation in which bringing about evil -- whether by giving freedom to creatures which will abuse it, or by creating a devil, or by creating a universe with natural laws which bring about pain and suffering -- was logically necessary. As John pointed out, there is no logical necessity for God to create anything whatsoever, or to act, and in doing so, one might argue, God must always maintain its moral perfection, which excludes the possibility of allowing evil to exist.

How could God ever be "cornered" into allowing evil? Does this not conflict with omniscience, omnipotence and God's own freedom? Eg, if God knows the evil that would occur from X, then the question is whether God has the choice or power to never create or allow X. If X is not logically necessary, then God may choose ~X.

God cannot be morally compelled to bring about X, because God cannot be morally compelled to bring about unnecessary evil.

When Plantinga argues that X = human freedom, he argues that God had to disrupt perfect good [Its own perfect existence] with allowing and setting in motion the existence of evil. This does not logically follow.

How can God be compelled to bring about evil, when God is morally perfect?

John W. Loftus said...

DagoodS, you are brilliantly and wickedly funny!

But let's see....a lawyer who hates word games....hmmmmm. ;-)

interlocutor said...


Can God have a morally compelling reason to allow evil? Why not?

Eric said...

"Retcon" Sounds like something an omnipotent totalitarian regime would do..

May I answer the question? Some theologians believe that humans need to be "tested" and "challenged, but this still begs further inquiery: "What for?"

I wrote a three-page paper for Intro to Philosophy and narrowed the idea of God into two possibilities: 1) God is evil, or 2), God does not exist. I used historical evidence, the nature of popular belief of Christians (God as a "Big Brother" figure), the manipulation of the idea of God (a political weapon), and his apparent (if you believe in it) inaction.

There is no satisfying reason that I can think of as to why such a big thing would crush its creation as a destructive child near an ant hill unless I begin to remove the qualities that theologians enjoy applying to their notion of God ("perfect, benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, etc).

Daniel said...


Can God have a morally compelling reason to allow evil? Why not?

I think the analysis of "moral perfection", omnipotence, omniscience, etc., prevent God from ever being able to be compelled to allow evil, as I tried to argue above.

Definitionally: If God always has some option A and some option B, and if B brings about evil [indirectly, directly, it doesn't matter] while A does not bring about evil -- then God is required, by fiat, to choose A.

That's as well as I can summarize it -- it seems logically impossible to reconcile the notions of God's attributes with God even being able to be compelled to allow evil.

Rich said...

I was gone for a week so I missed out on this discussion and it may be too late to add anything.

I had 2 thoughts about this. One is that the logical PofE was solved once by saying that God could have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. So my question then is what is that reason? What is coming to make this suffering all worth it?

I don't think we need to experience suffering to be saved. There is no apparent moral value in suffering through a natural disaster. But that is cetainly part of the intense suffering in this world right? To suffer consequences of our choices is different because that is a direct result of our choice and actions. We can also bring intense suffering To others by our choices.
So there has to be something coming, more then saying we are saved, for us to submit to suffering as part of our exsistance to make the "morally sufficient reason" valid.

I also think that we do have the capability to be free willed beings and choose right. Regaurdless of world view we all try to do what we believe is best for us.

Another question that arises to me is why did God decide to become silent? He spoke to ancient prophets in their time to guide his people. Why stop? Why does he not continue to guide us through a prophet? To be omni benevolent doesn'the need to be consistant with us? If the bible is all we need why don't we have all the bible? If God spoke to someone it should be important so who decided what was important to include and what wasn't? Did God say "Well I know I said that but that would creat less confusion so leave that out, I like to see people run in cicles trying to figure out what I need of them, quarreling over what is right and what isn't"? I can't see a loving, caring God doing such things. Seems like there are more questions than answers.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I know u aint serious. Just coz there is suffering on earth in no way comes close to disproving God's existence. God promises there WILL be suffering. For everyone. In HEAVEN there will be no suffering. So dude, if u want a world with no suffering, accept Jesus and come to heaven with me. Adam brought sin into the world. Dont get mad at a God u dont believe in because life is hard. God said it would be so. Its the result of sin. Heaven is still to come dude. Respect man. Love and peace.