Loftus vs. Wood Debate on the Problem of Evil

Click on the play button below to see Part 1, which will introduce you to the participants. Then you can watch the debate on evil we had at the Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, VA, on October 7th 2006.

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There are four additional parts. Just click on "more from user," to see the other parts to keep watching. When you watch my opening statement just ignore the slide show for the first 3 1/2 minutes, because it was out of sync. Make sure you turn up the volume, too.

You can read my initial comments on the debate here, and David Wood’s initial comments on the debate here.

[Edit: I'll be debating Dr. David Wood again on "Christianity vs Atheism," March 13th in Chesapeake, VA, for the Virginia Regional Apologetics Conference. More details to follow].

First Posted July 20, 2007

36 comments:

Joe E. Holman said...

As always, John, you are a very good speaker--and I might add, a speaker with a very down-home appearance that scores point with the audience!

I was only a few minutes into it and had to stop to go get headphones because the volumne is very poor, but looks terrific.

(JH)

John W. Loftus said...

To see the kind of intense suffering I'm referring to in this debate, take a look at another good description of it here.

Francois Tremblay said...

It does not start very well. The intro screen says he is a "former atheist." I have found that 99% of such claims are lies.

Aaron Kinney said...

I gave you a shout out, John! :)

Goldstein said...

Interesting point, Francois.

You find that claims to have been a former atheist are 99% lies.

Oddly, I find that claims to have been a former Christian are 99% lies.

(For verification, I offer the same proof you did.)

Tyro said...

Interesting talk, John.

I notice that Wood argues several times that suffering could plausibly serve a greater good or teach us lessors and he even, astonishingly, tries to justify the Holocaust. What's the argument? Israel is good because the Jews need to escape persecution, so therefore extreme persecution and genocide is a good thing? What does this end-justifies-the-means morality say about God? If God wants Israel, is he so ham-handed that he needs to allow the near extermination of the Jews?


When I hear this, I also think about the children that are born in Africa who face almost certain death by starvation. Millions of them! When theists say that suffering is there to teach us lessons, what possible lesson could these children learn, and if this lesson is important then why are aren't Western children learning this? Perhaps we're being denied something and we should hope that our children get the opportunity to starve to death. One comeback seems to be that these children are starving to death so that we Westerners may learn compassion which strikes me as appallingly insular and uncaring, not to mention borderline racist (notice how the lessons always seem to be teaching white westerners and reducing the lives of black Africans to lessons for our benefit?)

Then we have examples such as the 1918 Flu where hundreds of millions of people died worldwide. What lessons could possibly have been learned? How many people needed to die to achieve that end? How many people even know that more people died in four months from influenza than died in all of the battles in WW I? How many people have never heard of the Spanish Flu at all? If these people died to teach us something, it was an incredibly poor lesson.


I also want to hear how many children's deaths are necessary for us to learn. Right now, millions of people are starving to death. Could we learn that lesson if only half that number died? Just like the deer dying in the woods without any human witnesses, most of these children will die without our awareness so how can we be learning anything?


Wood had argued that there are other arguments for God. Well yes, he's right. Technically the problem of suffering only shows that a god must be powerless to stop suffering, amoral or uncaring but not necessarily non-existent. Is that really something Wood wishes to concede? It certainly rules out the Christian god though you wouldn't know it by Wood's argument.


I haven't given any talks live so I don't know how well these go over, but I still want to hear someone raise them in a debate :)

Stu said...

I really don't understand his point about objective moral values. If as Wood claims, objective moral values need to exist in order for the atheist to claim that God is bound by them, how can he then say that God is the only explanation for the existence of moral values? There appears to me to be a major inconsistency here - God cannot be both the source of objective moral values (does that even make sense?) and be bound by them.

Also why do objective moral values have to exist? It is the theist who makes this claim when he says that God is good. All the atheist needs to do is assume objective moral values exist for the sake of argument, and then show that a contradiction follows when combined with propositions about the attributes of God and the existence of evil in the world. Objective moral values don't have to actually exist to do this.

Michael Ejercito said...

What does this end-justifies-the-means morality say about God? If God wants Israel, is he so ham-handed that he needs to allow the near extermination of the Jews?
God did not need to allow the near extermination of Jews ; He chose to allow the near extermination of Jews.
When theists say that suffering is there to teach us lessons, what possible lesson could these children learn, and if this lesson is important then why are aren't Western children learning this?
It teaches us that God, as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, has no obligations to do anything for us.
Technically the problem of suffering only shows that a god must be powerless to stop suffering, amoral or uncaring but not necessarily non-existent. Is that really something Wood wishes to concede?
God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, it is His perogative to decide whether or not to alleviate someone's suffering.
There appears to me to be a major inconsistency here - God cannot be both the source of objective moral values (does that even make sense?) and be bound by them.
God's might makes right; it is the foundation for Christian morality.

Tyro said...

Michael,

Are you being serious? It is really hard to tell.

I've heard those arguments before but doesn't it make God into a monster? Even the stories of Satan aren't this evil.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Michael,
You comments support my assertion that God is really a way to describe the phenomena of Chance or Luck.
1. God did not need to allow the near extermination of Jews ; He chose to allow the near extermination of Jews.
1a. So circumstances came about and the jews were headed for extermination. God chose not to do anything about it and nothing changed.
1b. So circumstances came about and the jews were headed for extermination. There was not God to do anything about it and nothing changed.

2. t teaches us that God, as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, has no obligations to do anything for us.
2a. When our prayers don't get answered we should remember that god has no obligation.
2b. When our prayers don't get answered we should remember there is not god.

3. God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, it is His perogative to decide whether or not to alleviate someone's suffering.
3a. When little girls like this don't get their suffering relieved when medicine can't, God is excercising his perogative.
3.b When little girls like this don't get their suffering relieved when medicine can't, we should remember there is no God.

Isn't it neat how that works?
Thanks for the comment.

Michael Ejercito said...

3a. When little girls like this don't get their suffering relieved when medicine can't, God is excercising his perogative.
That is correct; He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He has no duty to alleviate our suffering.

The only important thing about God is what happens to those who die opposing Him; they are cast into a lake of fire, where they will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb of God, the smoke of their torment shall arise forever and ever , and they shall have no rest day nor night.

Michael Ejercito said...

I've heard those arguments before but doesn't it make God into a monster?
What I have written about God is consistent with the Bible.

Feel free to demonstrate otherwise.

Tyro said...

Michael,

What I have written about God is consistent with the Bible.

Yes, what you have written is consistent with some of the bible, especially the old testament. The bible god really is amoral, even evil.

Fortunately relatively few people believe in such a monster and fewer still worship it. That's why I asked if you were serious.

Of course, your belief is the perfect response to the problem of suffering. Make God so evil that all of this suffering fits his character. Quite a disturbing response, though.

Michael Ejercito said...


Fortunately relatively few people believe in such a monster and fewer still worship it.

So what God do they worship?
Make God so evil that all of this suffering fits his character.
Explain how refusal to end suffering is evil.

Tyro said...

Michael,

They worship some airy-fairy nebulous "God is Love" from John 4. Sounds nice, but it takes some resolute ostriching since you have to ignore both the OT as well as reality.

Explain how refusal to end suffering is evil.

Evil or amoral, take your pick.

If God has the ability to alleviate/prevent suffering but does not, then God is culpable. We correctly see humans who cause needless suffering as evil and God does this except on a much more massive scale.

What would we call any human that killed 100 million people in one year, primarily healthy young adults? That's what the Spanish Flu did in 18 months, dwarfing the deaths due to WW I and WW II combined. A natural disaster like few others which God could have prevented.

If that isn't evil, what is?

Michael Ejercito said...


They worship some airy-fairy nebulous "God is Love" from John 4. Sounds nice, but it takes some resolute ostriching since you have to ignore both the OT as well as reality.

I do not ignore the OT.
If God has the ability to alleviate/prevent suffering but does not, then God is culpable.
Wrong.

God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, by virtue of His station He is not culpable for anything.
What would we call any human that killed 100 million people in one year, primarily healthy young adults?
We would likely call him a murderer.
A natural disaster like few others which God could have prevented.
God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings; He had no duty to prevent it.

Rhology said...

No deep comment, just wanted to thank you guys for getting the debate on line. I'm watching it right now.

Stu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stu said...

Michael dude if that's Christianity I'm glad I'm out of it. At least most Christians I know have the decency to make some effort to try and attribute some moral values to their god. Seems to me you're one step short of being a suicide bomber. After all if God can kill anyone he likes, then what's to stop him using you as his vehicle of justice?

Another thing I noticed from the debate: Wood said that knowing his child is going to abuse its free will to do wrong wouldn't stop him having the child. I wish someone had asked him would he still have the child if he was Herr Hitler Senior and knew exactly what baby Adolf would get up to?

Tyro said...

If people like Michael would stand up and say things like this more often, I've no doubt that people would understand how devastating the problem of evil really is.

As an added bonus, no one would ask atheists where we get our morals, but there would be big question marks over the heads of Christians :)

Michael Ejercito said...

Stu, God's absolute might is the foundation of morality.

Since none can overthrow God, His will trumps all. He could have simply made us without will. But He made us so that we have a choice of obeying Him or eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Stu said...

Why, Michael, what does he get out of it?

Michael Ejercito said...

Why, Michael, what does he get out of it?
God has His reasons; all we need to know is that He threatens us with eternal torment with fire and brimstone if we defy Him!

Stu said...

Great.

Steven Carr said...

How can a god be told apart from a demon?

Michael Ejercito said...

How can a god be told apart from a demon?
God will not be among those being tormented with fire and brimstone.

Former_Fundy said...

John,

Just watched the debate. Whats with the black hat? Were you trying to play the bad man?

I think you were hurt by how the proposition was framed. I would prefer something like: The existence of natural evil in the world makes the belief in the Biblical God implausible.

In other words, I can conceive of a supernatural being who might have created the world the way it is; but its not the God described in the Bible.

Also I read the reviews and I am aggravated that Wood does what so many other Christians do, i.e., impugn your character. He basically says that you and other non-believers don't believe in God because we choose not to. Its a matter of the will.

Why not turn that around. Christians believe because they choose to, they like the comforting idea that they belong to God and will experience bliss forever. To give up such a belief is too much for them so they cling to it regardless of the evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

FF, But I AM a bad man! It's my signature hat. I like it. My wife thinks I look "sexy" in it, and if she's the only one then it's a good enough reason for me. ;-)

Yeah, about the debate proposition we had a long discussion about it here.

Thanks for watching it!

momofour said...

FF-You stated "Christians believe because they choose to, they like the comforting idea that they belong to God and will experience bliss forever. To give up such a belief is too much for them so they cling to it regardless of the evidence." I absolutely agree with your posit that believers CHOOSE to believe, just as non-believers CHOOSE not to. My question is for you--in what way does impugn a person's character? By saying that "non-believers don't believe in God because we choose not to. Its a matter of the will." in what way does that reflect negatively?

The only way to have a debate/discussion is to have one agreed-upon assertion and go from that assertion to two different conclusions. I saw this presentation as two parallel statements, each starting from a different assertion.

To be relevent, the two participants have to agree on WHAT 'evil'/'good' is or isn't. Since they do not, it's not a relevent discussion, really.

Evil is strictly a moral/spiritual distinction. A person who does not believe in a spiritual or moral law can't believe in 'evil's existence at all- so there is no such thing as 'natural evil' even though much suffering is caused by natural disasters. Suffering also results from accidents, as well as from evil.

Whiteman said...

Lose the hat; you're indoors. Use the microphone; you're being recorded.

Breckmin said...

it is utter absurdity to call God a "murderer."

Once you step into the assertion of theism you can't accuse God of doing anything unlawful because He is clearly Lord over the Law and is the Law Giver. God is therefore incapable of unlawful killing by default.

It is also utterly ridiculous by the mere fact that God determines every lifespan in this temporary creation based on circumstances.

That means that God somehow "murders" all of us and murder because a foolish and meaningless term to apply to the Creator and Sustainer of all.

As long as people FAIL to address theism at its premises they will certainly fail at their conclusions regarding theism.

God is the Giver and Taker of all life via circumstances...this includes the choices of individuals which are causes and effects on other people.

God will have no trouble accepting responsibility for His "actions" (anthropomorphic since they are atemporal in connection to His Omniscience and state of existence which is transcendent)and the reality of the logic of the universe will trump all of our foolishness (here in this temporary creation) which failed to even understand the very basic
philosophical consistency of the Owner, Creator and Sustainer of the universe (which is filled with beings making choices they will account for). Choices which are observed and interacted with are still real decisions... blaming God for the circumstances of your decisions is evasive to the Creator's right to test you.

Samphire said...

Hey - John,

This afternoon your ChipIn was showing $3 donated to your account. Yes, 3 whole $s.

I then contributed $5 by PayPal and now your ChipIn totals:




Wait for it!




$0




So, what's occurrin'?

Breckmin said...

"murder becomes(sic)a foolish and meaningless term(itself)to apply to a Creator" Who owns and sustains every existence (but is not responsible for actions of beings of choice).

No where do I see in these debates the role of knowledge and how it is connected to the "love requires choice" "choice creates the inevitable and potential byproduct of evil (sin and disobedience)and existence of love is greater than the REAL problem of evil (not in explaining it...but in how it is a danger to beings of choice who CAN love).

The role of knowledge and learning is perhaps the most important element in Theodicy and it is consistently missed in its relationship to learning to choose correctly.

John W. Loftus said...

Samphire, thanks so much! It looks just right to me from what I've received. It might get messed up and then it fix itself, I don't know. But it takes some time for the $ to show.

Breckmin said...

"He chose to allow the near extermination of Jews."

Even this statement is anthropomorphic. Is God a finite created existence that He should have to "wait" to make a decision?

IOW, "chose" is imperfect as well as the word "allow."

We like to use the word "allow" when it comes to bad things and "caused" when it comes to the blessings. "In control" verses "controling" they are both anthropomorphic in applying them to God's Infinite Decree or state of atemporal ordination. Failing to address the role of human choices as causes and effects as well as the "timing" of all so called "natural" occurances in the universe makes it even more complicated.

Imperfection is everywhere and God works PERFECTLY through imperfection. The problem of evil is not in explaining it...it is in how it is a danger to a being of choice who has the ability to love but needs KNOWLEDGE that needs to be learned in order to always choose correctly.

The cosmological principles we see from Moses and the prophets teach us that "we" are the problem..NOT God.

Jesus Christ and His Perfect Sacrifice on the Cross is the solution/answer to the problem of evil.

Breckmin said...

Thought of the day..

Is it even logical or possible that God would create us "omniscient?" Or would we have to be infinite in order to even be omniscient?

Knowledge of consequences has to be learned.