A Response to David Wood, Part 2

In our debate on suffering David Wood mentioned that his “arguments are by no means the only arguments that theists would offer in response to evil." He said "There are entire categories of answers that I won’t be using.” Mr. Wood claimed that the classical theistic position has “probably the strongest response to the problem of evil.” According to Mr. Wood, classical theists (like Thomas Aquinas) didn’t think of God as a personal “moral agent.” When they said God is good, “they didn’t mean that God is an extremely well-behaved person.” In his review of the debate, David said this: “…for classical theists, God is not a person, nor does he have emotions like humans. God isn’t like us at all. A classical theist would reject a concept of God which views him as the sort of being who would come to our rescue when we’re in danger, for this wouldn’t be a changeless, eternal being (and, according to the classical theist, sheer anthropomorphism).”

In our debate, and in his review itself, Mr. Wood mentions this view without arguing for it, so there was nothing I had to respond to, even now. However, I still want to take a look at it.

I'll skip a critque of the classical concept of an eternally unchanging God, since Christians themselves are rejecting such a notion. Suffice it to say that the whole notion that God doesn’t change seems to imply that God never has a new thought, or idea, since everything is an eternal NOW, and there is nothing he can learn. This is woodenly static. God would not be person, of course. But he would end up being a block of ice, a thing. To say he does nothing NEW, thinks nothing NEW, feels nothing NEW, basically means he does nothing, thinks nothing, feels nothing, for it’s all been done. What would it mean for a such a being not to take risks (since the outcome is sure), not to plan (for it’s already been planned), or to think (thinking involves weighing temporal alternatives, does it not?). But if God cannot have a new thought then he cannot think--he is analogous to a block of ice.

The classical theist’s position is defended today by Brian Davies, in his book An Introduction the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1993). Davies questions “whether the theist is bound to regard God as morally good,” and writes, “if the problem of evil depends on thinking of God as a morally good agent and if theists do not have to regard him as such, then the problem is not necessarily a problem for belief in God.”(p. 48) Davies is correct, I think, to say that if the classical theist’s God is not a morally good agent then the problem of evil is a “pseudo-problem,” in exactly the same way that Process theologians do away with the problem of evil by arguing that God is not omnipotent. That’s because in order for there to be a problem of evil theists must first believe that their God is morally good, omnipotent and omniscient in some sense. Lacking these characteristics in a God makes the problem of evil pretty much null and void, although, as I'll argue, there is a price to pay for this view.

Davies makes a distinction between God being known as “good” from God being known as “morally good.” He argues God can be known to be good without also being morally good. What does the word “good” mean when applied to God? Davies writes that “it is implausible to hold that moral goodness is the only goodness there is. There are good chairs, good radios, good dinners, good essays, good books, good poems, good maps, good all sort of things.” So the only way we can know whether or not God is morally good would be to understand the context of the word “good” when applied to God. Theists will typically claim God is a person, and like other persons he should at least be as good as we are when we act good. But Davies argues the phrase “God is a person” “does not occur anywhere in the Bible.” And neither does the Bible say that the Trinity being made up of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are “persons” or a “person” either. Even if theists still want to say “God is personal” Davies claims there is something “odd” in thinking God is morally good, “for if we are talking of the maker and sustainer of creatures, must it not, rather, be true that God can be neither morally good nor morally bad?” “To deem an agent to be morally good, we need positive grounds for attributing to that agent virtue or obedience to duty or obligation. And this, of course, means that if something is such that virtue or obedience to duty or obligation cannot be intelligibly attributed to it, we have no reason to think of it as either morally good or morally bad. (p. 49). Davies goes on to argue that God has no obligations or duties to his creature since he is the creator of them all. Only creatures have obligations and duties to their creator and to each other. God is not bound by any moral laws to his creatures. “If anything, it should be said that God must be the cause of duties and obligations, for, if God is the creator, he must be the cause of there being situations in which people have such things. (p. 52).

Roy F. Holland argues in a similar fashion in his article, “On the Form of the Problem of Evil” Against Empiricism: On Education, Epistemology, and Value (Barnes & Nobles Books, 1980). Holland claims that “God is not a member of a moral community, or any community for that matter,” and since moral obligations are only to be found within moral communities, God does not have any moral obligations.

What can be said about these responses to the problem of evil? In the first place, what must be understood about them are that they are all concessionary solutions, that is, they concede that the problem of evil is a powerful argument. So to escape the conclusion of the argument these theists must give up believing God has one or more of the characteristics traditionally ascribed to him, like moral agency, moral goodness, omnipotence and/or omniscience. That’s quite a concession. It’s a concession I’m very pleased to see them admit.

In the second place, the Christian theist has a new problem. It's one I expressed in the debate itself, and it comes from John Beversluis who has argued, that “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.” [C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Eerdmans, 1985)].

The reason why a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards is because of the kind of God they are left with by conceding the argument from evil. What kind of God are they left with? That’s the question. They have a non-personal God who is not a moral agent. As such this God has no moral obligations to his creatures. This non-personal God can almost be equated with the “Force” of the Star Wars movie (which is neither good nor evil), and as such IT is amoral in our sense of the word, which is the only sense of the word we can rationally know.

This God does not have moral obligations toward his creatures and therefore he can do whatever he wants to us for his own ends and his own glory. If I were to ask whether this God has any obligation to love us, then the answer would be “No.” If I were to ask whether this God has any obligation to tell us the truth, then the answer would be “No.” If I were to ask if this God is under any obligation to help us when we suffer, then the answer would be “No.” Why then does the believer think God loves us, or that he tells us the truth, or that he will help us when we suffer? The believer will answer that God freely chooses to do so. What reasons does the Christian believer have for answering this way? They will answer that God has shown us he loves us in Jesus Christ.

Now there are plenty of reasons for rejecting the claim that Jesus is God, or that his death atoned for our sins, and that he resurrected from the grave. But even if these superstitious claims can be accepted, which are implausible at best, what reason do we have for thinking that God tells us the truth in Jesus, or that Jesus’ death on the cross helps us, or that he will come to our aid when we are suffering? If God has no obligations toward us then what reason does anyone have for thinking Jesus helped us, or that the Bible is a true account of why his death helps us, or why God will help us in our suffering, or keep any of his promises to us? By this very logic God does not have any obligation toward us at all, so even if he did freely choose to show us he cared for us in the ancient past, what reason do we have for supposing he still cares for us? I see none. None based upon the logic of the classical theists viewpoint, that is.

In the third place, what sense can be made that God is not a person when Christians try to understand the incarnation of a purported God-man, Jesus? What sense can be made of such a God-man who both had no moral obligations as a non-moral divine agent, and at the same time had human obligations? How can this purported God-man represent one being, who is both personal and impersonal, who has no obligations and yet has obligations?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, such a concept of God is also inadequate as an object of worship. I might fear him, but then I fear a bully with a baseball bat in his hands too. Such a being is untrustworthy. I cannot believe a single word he speaks. For all that Christians would know, the Bible is not true, the events never occurred, and we would be deceived by this God if we believed it. Nor do I have any guarantees such a being loves me and will help me when I suffer, no matter what I hear him say or see him do. As far as I know from this world, I am just a rat in a maze, or an ant in an ant farm, or a human guinea pig. That’s all, as far as I know, from the logic of the position espoused. I will never worship such a being. If I believed such a Being existed I would probably obey out of fear, but if such a Being could read my thoughts then he would also know I'm rebelling against him as I do.

There is one thing more about this classical view though. It admits what we actually find in the Bible. It admits what I see in the Bible, and the God in the Bible is barbaric.

No wonder then that Christian theologians beginning with Anselm have adopted what's called perfect being theology. Since a proper concept of God must entail he is "the greatest conceivable being," that means God must be omnibenelovent, omnipotent and omniscient. Anything less than this isn't a proper concept of God worthy of worship. However, as classical theology reminds us, maybe God's omnibenelovence cannot be found in the Bible after all! Therein lies the final problem for the Christian theist. Can he have it both ways?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If the atheist worldview were in fact nihilistic, we could never come upon a system of logic, as we could have no definitive agreement of what is and what isn't." (James from the 'God is barbaric')

I have a question for the atheist (for me) that might clear up some of their view of evil and suffering - can an atheist be il-logical? Can someone be a product of their environmental system, believe there is no god, and be without the same logical assertions as some of these noble atheist thinkers? Can they be non-noble?

The claim to James was the the end of the worldview of the atheist was 'nihilistic' (not sure I agree here since we are individuals) - but can it be for some atheists? I think it is logical to think so. We're all pre-supposing things about individuals that just may not be the case for everyone. All atheists are good and moral people because of their logic - well for some yeah. All Christians are war-mongering illogical people - for some yeah. But for all? The logic escapes me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to skirt the actual issue of the blog - just thought that other one was of interest also - so I brought it up - but blogger.com was being weird so it posted twice - you can erase one as I only wanted to post it once - plus i am also getting the same word verification for all the blogs - weird.

As far as God being evil, I would say the blog makes a lot of sense but it's merely philosophical in nature - from both sides. My question is - is God referred to as evil by it's believers - or are they just being irrational about their own books - which they value? I am not saying I agree with finding ideals from the bible that create evil - hell this can be done with any book if we choose to do so - but do the Jewish people consider this God to be 'evil'? Is this God termed 'evil' in the writings? If so, then your argument has absolute validity and I don't find a single problem with it. If not, then are you reading this ideal into it? I know read for myself - but they are the most basic questions.

Eric said...

There was another post a few days back that said that God, no matter what horrendous misanthropic violence he commits, whatever sociopathic tendencies are present within him, will always be good. Simply because of the actor, the act is good.

A movie might be terrible in objective opinion, but it would thus be considered "good" because of a famous actor/actress's presence. If Adolf Hitler were God (he was a man who acted and spoke very much like the Christian God), the Holocaust would have not only been acceptable, but celebrated.

"Good" in this such case ceases to mean what we take it to mean. "Good" will be assigned to God not "1" but the square root of -1, an imaginary number whose meaning we cannot discern. Based upon our knowledge of good (as "+1") and that which we [should] value as human beings, why would we worship an entity who acts solely upon whim, upon Thanatos and Libido without regard for the consequences? Oh that's right - for the SqRoot -1 "good" God, there are no consequences. God = A Hitler-figure who is not (NOT!) worthy of humsn recognition, much less worshipped!

As for the believers of this totalitarian, narcissist god, the kind of actions the SqRoot -1 morality is incredibly dangerous, and produces incredibly destructive political and moral anomalies within our world. Richard Dawkins said in his documentary of 2 parts (Root of All Evil & Virus of Faith, [Google Video]), with the Bible [religion] we have "good people doing evil things, and evil people doing evil things" (Virus of Faith). Some examples, if they are necessary, are Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran (1979-199-), the Holocaust (I do believe it to be religiously inspired), the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, Iraqi Sectarian Violence, 9/11, and so on.

The Shogun said...

John,

You seriously distorted the classical theist position. I'm not a tremendous fan of the position, but we have to be careful in our analyses, whether we like a view or not.

You said that the classical theist position is an admission that the problem of evil is a strong argument. You seem to think that Aquinas and others were forced into this view because of evil. But you're simply wrong here. Aquinas didn't say to himself, "Man, what am I going to do about evil? I know! I'll take away God's personhood!" That's not how these theologians worked. They believed that God is utterly transcendent. God can't be like us. We can say that God is good, but we don't mean the same thing we mean when we say that Steve is good. We do not share God's attributes. If we did, then God would be like creatures, and this is unthinkable. Like it or not, the classical theist's rejection of the idea of God as a moral agent has nothing at all to do with the problem of evil.

Look at what you did next. After describing the classical theist's position, you went on to criticize it, but you did so by using a concept of God that classical theists reject! Classical theists don't believe that God swoops down into the world and performs actions. God isn't this sort of being. You noted that classical theists don't regard God's goodness as moral goodness. But then you took this to mean that God could come down and act in all sorts of horrible ways, since God has no moral obligations to his creatures. But this is a misrepresentation. The classical theist doesn't believe that God is the sort of being who comes down and does things. So your criticisms aren't a threat to classical theists.

You went on to say that the classical theist agrees that God is barbaric. This is yet another misrepresentation. The God of classical theists is not barbaric. He doesn't carry a sword and cut people's heads off. He doesn't torture people. He's nothing like a barbarian. So, you can say that this isn't the God of the Bible, or that this is an unrealistic picture of God, but you shouldn't keep misrepresenting what classical theists believe.

Moreover, the God of classical theism doesn't lack the attribute of goodness. The reasoning goes like this. Evil is a privation. It has no positive ontological status. Therefore, evil was not created, because only what has being needs to be created. Everything that God created, then, was good. This goodness is a reflection of God, who must also be good. Nevertheless, this goodness is not like moral goodness.

Brian Davies recently released a complete book on this topic ("The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil"). It might clear up some things for you.

As for theistic personalists (the other camp), to say that God is unchanging doesn't mean that God is not personal. It means that God's nature does not change. Thus, they see no problem in saying that God does something, answers a prayer, etc., and that God is also unchanging.

Anonymous said...

the shogun,

You seriously distorted John's position. I'm not a tremendous fan of the position, but we have to be careful in our analyses, whether we like a view or not.

You said that John "seem to think that Aquinas and others were forced into this view because of evil." But John didn't criticize Aquinas, instead he is responding to David Wood, who says the classical theistic position has 'probably the strongest response to the problem of evil.'" Now I don't know if Aquinas thinks that classical theistic position is the solution of the problem of evil, but Wood certainly did, and I am pretty sure Wood is the person that John is criticizing here. If you don't believe me you can read the title of John's article.

Look at what you did next. After describing the John's position, you went on to criticize it, but you did so by refuting something John didn't even say! John did NOT say classical theists "believe that God swoops down into the world and performs actions", instead at the beginning of the article he quotes Daivd Wood :"“…for classical theists, God is not a person, nor does he have emotions like humans. God isn’t like us at all." You noted that John said "classical theists don't regard God's goodness as moral goodness." but you then took this that he means classical theists believe "that God could come down and act in all sorts of horrible ways, since God has no moral obligations to his creatures." But this is a misrepresentation because John's point is that if God is not good in the moral sense but in his only own sense, then Christian have no rational ground to believe that his action would be good in moral sense. However, Christians praise their God that he will keep his words, that he will provide, that he will save us, etc. All of these are moral goods. Now if a Christian accepts classical theistic view and claims that we can't say that God is morally good, then how can he believe that God has done all these morally good action? A classical theist can believe whatever he wants, but a Christian's belief must be based on the Bible, which claims that God has done this and will do that. I am pretty sure John is criticizing Christian who accept the classical theist view. (".....as I'll argue, there is a price to pay for this view.") He is not criticizing the classical theistic view per se. So your criticisms aren't a threat to John.

You went on to say that John said the classical theist agrees that God is barbaric. This is yet another misrepresentation. Again, John says the Biblical God is barbaric, not the classical theists' God. He says the classical theist view "admits" the barbaric God in the Bible. That is, classical theistic is CONSISTENT with the barbaric God; however, it doesn't mean that he thinks all classical theists believe in the Biblical God. So, you can say this is not John of your imagination but you shouldn't keep misrepresenting what John believes in reality.

Moreover, the "privation argument" has been rejected by many - Lebniz for example. His reasoning goes like this : Imagine someone paints two painting A and B - B is an exact replica of A but only in a smaller scale. Now it is absurd to say that the painter is not the creator of the difference between two painting because "what is lacking is nothing more than a simple result of an infallible consequence of that which is positive, without any need for a distinct author." In other words, even if evil is a privation (which I think is arguable), it is still silly to say that evil is not created by God. It is because he created all things and evil is a necessary consequence of his creation if it is a privation.

John W. Loftus recently released a complete article on this topic (" A Response to David Wood, Part 2"). I suspect you haven't really read what John has written. So try and read it - It might clear up some things for you.

As for your last point, my response is that to say that God's nature does not change does not entail he is changeless. That is, to say that "God 's nature must be good and it won't change" is not saying the same thing as "God is unchanging." When God "does something, answers a prayer, etc," he HAS changed - for example, He has changed from not having answered prayer X to having answered prayer X.

The Shogun said...

Lok,

Did you actually read what John wrote, or are you one of the people who just like to argue?

I didn't read your comments beyond your first point, since I don't think you read any of this carefully enough to offer an important response. You said that John isn't responding to classical theists. Instead, he's responding to me. But look at what John wrote. After describing the views of classical theists (quite reasonably, may I add), he said:

"What can be said about these responses to the problem of evil? In the first place, what must be understood about them are that they are all concessionary solutions, that is, they concede that the problem of evil is a powerful argument. So to escape the conclusion of the argument these theists must give up believing God has one or more of the characteristics traditionally ascribed to him, like moral agency, moral goodness, omnipotence and/or omniscience. That’s quite a concession. It’s a concession I’m very pleased to see them admit."

John is saying that the responses of Davies and other classical theists (he says "these responses," i.e. the classical theist positions that he just described) are concessions to the strength of the argument from evil. And I pointed out that the problem of evil is not part of their reasoning. They reject theistic personalism because they think it's too anthropomorphic, not because they're desperately searching for a response to the problem of evil. That's just a fact, and to state otherwise is to misrepresent their position.

As for my claim that they offer perhaps the strongest response to the problem of evil, I think this is entirely correct. They retain the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness, and yet they reject the idea that God is the sort of (personal) being that would come to our rescue whenever we're in danger. If they're right, this is a powerful response, because most of the atheist complaints against God wouldn't apply to the God of classical theism. Even John couldn't really criticize the position. Instead, after explaining what classical theists believe, he went on to critique what we might describe as an amoral personal God, which neither classical theists nor theistic personalists believe in.

With that said, I don't believe that classical theism offers the best response to the problem of evil, which is why I don't advocate the position (though I think it's important enough to be noted). Strongest, perhaps, but not best. I say "strongest" because it weakens the problem of evil tremendously. But I don't think it's the best because I see other problems with classical theism.

Lory Jean-Baptiste said...

The problem of evil for the atheist: Why is there suffering?

Answer: The universe we see came to be by accident. Random processes, statistical and physical laws accidentally created this universe. It's just our bad luck that we ended up with such a messed up universe. But don't worry the universe will eventually accidentally create a nearly perfect universe. But unfortunately, in that nearly perfect accidental universe atheists won't be able to use the problem of evil as an argument against God. In fact, in the accidental perfect universe no one will doubt that there is a God because the universe will be so damned perfect. Hopefully, there will be a few hardcore skeptics who will still believe that such a perfect universe could have been created by chance. But sadly almost everyone will suffer from the "God Delusion." Hmm...I guess then that universe won't be so perfect from the atheist point of view.

Anyway, back to suffering. The suffering you experience is just a neurological phenomenon which exists as a result of millions of years of evolutionary accidents. It's just some neurons firing and some changes in the chemical balance of your brain. At some point it served a useful evolutionary purpose but it doesn't serve any purpose anymore. One day we will invent a pill that will cure pain and suffering and all other unpleasant emotions. Don't worry, Dr. Richard Dawkings is working on a cure for suffering and the God delusion syndrome as we speak. Remember, you're just a biological machine accidentally created by random processes. Whatever suffering you're experiencing can be fixed by just fixing your brain!

John W. Loftus said...

David, you're probably right that I conflated the two views in my response to you. Some of what I said was a critique of impersonalism and some of it was a critique of personalism. I don't have the time to separate them right now, but I think you can. I'd be interested to know why you reject classical views, and I'd also like to know why you still mention them even though you reject them. I mean, really, why not just say Process Theology has the best response to the problem of evil? What good does that do your case if you reject it?

As far as someone who might accept a classical response to the problem of evil because it's such a powerful argument goes, that would clearly be you I was referring to. Why else would you lean in that direction enough to mention it like you do?

John W. Loftus said...

Lory Jean-Baptiste, I'm kind of tired responding to such things. I've recently written something along the same lines here, although it wasn't written to your specific questions. Thanks for visiting DC. I will address your questions soon enough, point for point, when I respond further to Mr. Wood.

John W. Loftus said...

David. I may have written this blog entry a little slipshod, but what I meant to say was that you are the one who feels pulled by the classical view because of its answer to the problem of evil.

You wrote: he went on to critique what we might describe as an amoral personal God, which neither classical theists nor theistic personalists believe in. Actually, if this came across wrong, then let me clarify. I was arguing that this is what the classical response entails, not that they thought this way, as I did with other aspects of their view. I argued that this is what I consider the logical conclusion of what they believed, even though they would deny this of their God.

And as far as evil as a privation goes, there is so much I could write about that, but suffice it to say "the problem of evil" merely resurfaces in Augustine as "the problem of the lack of goodness." Why then is there such a lack of goodness in this world? And we'd have the same arguments to deal with all over again, using different terms for the debate.

The Shogun said...

John,

The difference between process theology and classical theism is that the former denies one of God's attributes, while the latter does not. Thus, I can sympathize with the latter but not with the former, even though I don't really agree with either.

I reject classical theism because I think its roots run more deeply in the soil of Aristotelianism than in the Bible. Also, I don't think that being personal makes God less than fully transcendent. Indeed, I would say it's a problem if God lacks personality.

As for why I bring it up, there are two reasons: First, all I said was that the problem of evil doesn't affect this view very much, which is important if we're discussing the impact of the argument from evil. Second, I think that theistic personalists go too far with their personalism. That is, a healthy dose of classical theism is needed in order to bring some degree of balance, i.e. to keep people from thinking of God as a more powerful version of ourselves (this is what led to process theology). The truth lies somewhere between the two views, but I suspect it lies closer to theistic personalism.

Anonymous said...

the shogun,

Sigh, I actually do not like to argue for the sake of arguing in general. As you say you haven't even read past my first point, there isn't really a reason for me to reply; moreover, to discuss more on this seems off-topic. Nonetheless, it is somewhat my fault that my point didn't get across clearly because of my pathetic attempt at humoring; therefore, I think I should reiterate.

My main point is this : Yes, John, in his critique, did not make a clear distinction between classical theistic God and the Biblical God; however, his main point is very clear so it is not charitable to focus on Thomistic theology. In other words, my complain is that you have shifted the focus.

Now, again, I do think John has somewhat mixed the two Gods in question - it does make his argument little weaker - however, given the context, John's point, to me, is extremely clear: if Christian uses the classical theistic God to solve the problem of evil, that he is not good in a moral sense, then Christian have no rational ground to believe what they do. This is something I have already said last time, though you probably have not read it.

Now before I continue, I would like to comment on your response to my post. You said that "[John] says "these responses," i.e. the classical theist positions that he just described." Yes, he did say it and I think this is one of the things that muddled his argument, but it is not muddled to a point that his point is not clear because he IMMEDIATELY in the next paragraph he writes "in the second place, the Christian theist has a new problem. " The rest of the article, clearly, is about the Christian God and why Christian theists cannot borrow the Good of God in the sense classical theists. This is why I said you misrepresented John's argument because you amplified the weakness of John article while ignoring the rest. John's point was never to refute classical theists, but to criticize Christian theist who thinks classical theistic God is a viable solution to the problem of Evil.

Furthermore, you said "he went on to critique what we might describe as an amoral personal God, which neither classical theists nor theistic personalists believe in." Yes, but he never says that they do! He introduce the classical theistic view and show that it is incompatible with the Christian God. That IS his point - he never claims victory over classical theists. His point, again, is that Christian cannot borrow classical theistic God evident as shown in his last point : "therein lies the final problem for the Christian theist. Can he have it both ways?"

You probably would say they can't but it doesn't matter because no Christian theists believes in an amoral personal God, but it is you that "claimed that the classical theistic position has “probably the strongest response to the problem of evil.” I assume that you are a Christian since this is a website devoted to debunk Christianity and you are arguing against the author. If my assumption is right then John's argument applies to you because the problem of evil is a problem of Christian God and not a problem for classical theistic God, so to say to use classical theistic God to counter the problem of evil is absurd because (1)it is not the Christian God and (2) it does not even admit the problem of Evil since then evil is not a problem at all, as John says "Lacking these characteristics in a God makes the problem of evil pretty much null and void...."

The analogy is this: suppose my friend and I, both located in the US, are arguing that a car we are looking at is whether red or green. If I argue that the car is red because in China they only make red cars (perhaps because they are communist). Can I say that my response is strongest? NO! My friend would say "uh...but we are in the US." I simply nullify the problem at hand by shifting the context.

Now I know that this isn't your own view but that's besides the point - you said that classical theistic view is strong and it isn't because it simply nullify the problem. The burden is on you to show that how a theistic God can be consistent with the Christian God in order to serve as a "strong response."

The Shogun said...

Lok,

I think you misunderstood our debate. I have always said that I don't accept classical theism. Nor am I trying to use it to defend my position. And, in fact, I agree that it's difficult to reconcile classical theism with the God of the Bible. That's why I said that I think classical theism has its roots in Aristotelianism.

Our debate was not "The Christian God vs. the Problem of Evil," though I can hardly find an atheist in the world who understands that. Our debate was whether the Problem of Evil makes the existence of God implausible. I pointed out in my opening statement that the problem of evil doesn't do much against certain doctrines of God (i.e. classical theism). I also said that I wouldn't be defending classical theism.

So, I've said (1) that I don't accept classical theism (which is true), (2) that classical theists have perhaps the strongest response to the problem of evil (which is true), but that I don't accept their view. Then, somehow, everyone says, "But David, you can't use this argument because it's inconsistent with the Christian God." Have I denied this? I don't think this view works well within a Christian framework, which is why I reject it. And I've never used it to defend anything. But if theism in general is on the line, then I don't see why it's a problem that I mention two versions of theism in a debate. In fact, I consider this to be important. If I stand up to defend theism, it seems only fair to point out that my version of theism isn't the only one in the world. It also seems fair to say, "This other view, which I don't accept, has a strong response to the problem of evil." Does any of this make sense?

Anonymous said...

Well hullo everyone. I found this site from societyvs, and I picked up bits of this comment thread here. Forgive me if I'm missing something, but the heated debate on this thread seems to be between an atheistic view and a non-Christian theistic view. In fact, the theistic view put forth by (David?) seems quite removed from what I know from the Christian conception of God.

On the one hand, I can understand and empathize with a lot of Christians in defending their views of God (being some sort of Christian myself), but what I'm curious about is why would someone defend a view of God like an impersonal something-or-other? What's the significance of having an abstract deity like that? I don't understand.

Peace,
Jathan

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, David, I just finished your last comment. Okay, now I'm understanding this thread a little better. sorry

John W. Loftus said...

David, although mentioning some other version of theism may help win you a debate, it doesn't help you win it unless you argue for it, which you did not do. And it does not answer the question for you personally of why God allows such intense suffering, nor does it help most observers who are non-classical theists. I mean, really, what good does it do to argue what is known to be a "concessionary" theodicy? That's "concessionary" in the sense that it concedes, or gives up, one or more key premises in the debate. Nothing, as far as I can tell. In my charitable understanding, our debate was premised on the idea that you would be arguing for "non-concessionary" theodices and defenses. There are theists who do not believe evil exists, like Christian scientists. This is a "concessionary" solution too, since it gives up the notion that evil exists, just like the classical theists believed evil is a privation, and just like Process theologians do by conceding God is not omnipotent. If you wanted to play the devil's advocate and defend a process theodicy, what good would that do but be an exercise in winning a vacuous victory? I had asked you what you believed about theism before we debated. I wanted to know if you were a Calvinist, for Calvinists have a different response to the problem of evil. Knowing what you're planning to defend helps me know where to spend my time in preparation for a debate. If I were debating Process thought, I would have wanted to know that as well, ya see.

You basically wanted me to argue that all versions of theism are faulty, even though you never argued for any other version of theism. You wanted me to argue against all of the arguments for the existence of God, even though you never argued for any of them (well, maybe one). And if I did not do all of this, based upon a standard of proof I did not accept in the first place, then I lost the debate. Correct me if I'm wrong here. So now we must define the term "theism" as well as the word "implausible." Any other words you'd like to define after the fact of the debate? You really should have been a lawyer! But you lack the principle of intellectual charity in dealing with your opponent when it comes to debate propositions themselves. You assume the worse possible definition of a word for your opponent, without stating what your definition of a word is in the pre-debate, or debate itself, waiting until the post-debate discussion before you reveal it, in order to win a debate. As DagoodS pointed this out earlier with the word "any" as in "any rational person," two people can play this game.

I have a phrase for what I see here. It's called logical gerrymandering,. You sure are good at it! It also tells me something about you personally. You want to win. You're very competitive. I too am very competitive. But I don't what to win as badly as you do, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I have said it again and again that I know it is not your view, nor I think your debate is about the "The Christian God vs. the Problem of Evil."

It has always been this: "(2) that classical theists have perhaps the strongest response to the problem of evil (which is true)"

The point is that I don't think it is true that it has the strongest response, and I have already stated my reason and I don't like repeating myself. If you think it is true, you have to justify it and if you think there are problems with my reasoning, you have to show them.

You do NOT have to defend it because it is not your view but you DO have to defend your claim that it has the strongest response.

The problem of evil is a problem for any moral god, and I focus on the Christian God only because, well, this is a Christianity blog. The point, again, is this: the problem of evil is a problem for a moral god and classical theistic God is not a moral one; therefore, they simply talk past each other. I think it is actually off topic to mention it because classical theism do not address the problem of evil (they simply do not have to.) Therefore. it is NOT fair to say "This other view, which I don't accept, has a strong response to the problem of evil" for it gives a illusion that the problem of evil cannot somehow solved by another kind of theism when it just simply nullify it.

For example, in a debate on the problem of evil, am I really saying anything except downplaying the problem if i say "Oh there are all sort of theisms that have a strong responses to the problem of evil, for example, the Monday theism, which claims that God only does good things on Monday and Weekend theism, which claims that God only does good things on weekend. But HEY! there are not my view! I do not have to defend them."

Anonymous said...

Why is it that theists who defend Christianity rarely use arguments that are used in Churches?

If this is the defense against the problem of evil, then why aren't all of the Christian preachers preaching this "truth"? Why aren't all of the preachers preaching that God isn't a moral agent and that God won't help you and that God is indifferent to suffering because he is eternal and changeless?

Where are the Christian sermons on this issue?

Secondly, this argument really has nothing to do with Christianity, its an argument from Greek philosophy that was used by the Stoics. Is he arguing in defense of Stoicism or Christianity here?

Thirdly, from where in the Bible can I read and get these answers? I've read the whole Bible, and in the Old Testament God is an anthropomorphic emotional basket case that the Jews appeal to like a father, who they believe helps them and harms them, brings wrath and brings good. Why didn't they understand that their God was really an impervious amoral timeless entity with no emotions? In the New Testament "God is Love", again, God IS an emotion, so unless this person isn't even talking about Christianity, I have no idea why they are using these arguments.

www.rationalrevolution.net

John W. Loftus said...

Actually David, if you were to take the word "theism" to mean merely a very limited belief in a creator God (which I didn't see you do), then I would have to concede the debate. You would win! For the problem of suffering does not by itself show that a creator God doesn't exist. It's only a problem for those theistic views in which God is viewed as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenelovent (defined in Anselmian ways as morally perfect and good) and where the person who holds this view acknowledges that intense suffering exists. If you defended other theistic views from the problem of suffering that wouldn't be any sort of victory at all, since the problem isn't a problem with those other views. You can defend other theistic views if you want to, but then I would offer other arguments against those views than the problem of suffering.