The Most Asinine Christian Argument I've Probably Ever Heard

This argument is touted recently by the Maverick Philosopher which Vic Reppert links to, who merely asks the question of whether or not he's correct. It's used by C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Paul Copan, and others like Steve Hays and David Wood. It concerns the problem of evil and whether or not the atheist can make that argument without an objective standard to know evil. Now I don't usually call Christian arguments asinine, so hear me out...

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, argues from the start that there can be no evil without absolute goodness (God) to measure it against. "How do you know a line is crooked without having some knowledge of what a straight line is?” In other words, I need some sort of objective moral in order to say something is morally evil. But the word “evil” here is used both as a term describing the fact that there is suffering, and at the same time it’s used as a moral term to describe whether or not such suffering makes the belief in a good God improbable, and that’s an equivocation in the word’s usage. The fact that there is suffering is undeniable. Whether it makes the belief in a good God improbable is the subject for debate. I'm talking about pain...the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? I’m arguing that the amount of intense suffering in this world makes the belief in a good God improbable from a theistic perspective, and I may be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still ask about the internal consistency of what a theist believes.

The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with his own beliefs (not mine) that all suffering is for a greater good. It’s an internal problem for the theist and the skeptic is merely using the logical tool for assessing arguments called the reductio ad absurdum, which attempts to reduce to absurdity the claims of a person. The technique is to force a claimant to choose between accepting the consequences of what he believes, no matter how absurd it seems, or to reject one or more premises in his argument. The person making this argument does not believe the claimant and is trying to show why her beliefs are misguided and false to some degree, depending on the force of his counter-argument. It’s that simple. If skeptics cannot use this argument here on this issue then we should disallow all reductio ad absurdum type arguments. Just ask yourself if, in order to show Idealism to be implausible by accepting the premises of George Berkeley’s argument, whether you therefore must abandon your view that there is a material world, and you’ll see what I mean.

Christian theists argue that in the natural world nothing can count as evil for the atheist, since everything that happens is part of nature. So, they claim atheists have no objective basis for arguing there is any evil in the natural world that can count against the existence of the Christian God. But this is fallacious reasoning. What counts as evil in my atheist worldview is a separate problem from the Christian problem of evil. They are distinctly separate issues. Christians cannot seek to answer their internal problem by claiming atheists also have a problem with evil. Yet, that’s exactly what they do here, which is an informal fallacy known as a red herring, or skirting the issue. Christians must deal with their internal problem. Atheists must do likewise. I will not skirt my specific problem by claiming Christians have one. I adjure them to do the same.

The fact that many professional philosophers agree with this can be seen in reading through the book, The Evidential Argument From Evil, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder. Not one scholarly Christian theist attempted to make this argument in that book; not Swinburne, not Plantinga, not Alston, not Wykstra, not Van Inwagen and not Howard-Snyder. I suggest it’s because they know it is not dealing with the problem at all. They recognize it as a bogus argument, and obviously so.

That this is a theistic problem can be settled once and for all by merely reminding the Christian that she would still have to deal with this problem even if I never raised it at all. That is, even if I did not argue that the existence of evil presents a serious problem for the Christian view of God, the Christian would still have to satisfactorily answer the problem for herself. So to turn around and argue that as an atheist I need to have an objective moral standard to make this argument is nonsense. It’s an internal problem that would still demand an answer if no atheist ever argued for it. The problem of evil is one of the reasons why Process Theologians have conceded that God is not omnipotent. It didn’t take atheists to persuade them to abandon God’s omnipotence at all. The problem speaks for itself. There is nothing wrong with a Christian who wishes to evaluate the internal consistency of her own belief system. To say otherwise is to affirm pure fideism.

46 comments:

Steven Carr said...

When faced with a knock-down argument like why their alleged god passes by on the other side when a screaming child is burned to death in a Kenyan church, what can you expect theists to do other than try to evade answering the question?

They are as heartless as their alleged god, and the deaths of children being burned alive, don't trouble their beliefs in the slighest.

'That child died for a greater good', they will say.

And they continue by claiming that atheists say a child being burned alive in a Kenyan church is 'natural selection'.

K. Szklenski said...

There's another problem with that question that John Beversluis points out in C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. If they are to claim that their god is the only god, and that that god is "all good", then they must be measuring their god against some standard that was set in place by something higher up than their god, by the same reasoning that they use. What put that standard into place? You must first come up with some entity whose moral value you cannot ascribe "good" or "evil", and THEN you can at least try to call that thing god, even though they don't really know what the word "god" means.

Sandalstraps said...

Steven Carr,

When you say

They are as heartless as their alleged god...

do you mean:

a.) theists who offer this admittedly pathetic argument,

b.) theists in general, as a group (though possibly with a few novel exceptions), or

c.) theists as a group, including each and every single theist as an individual, to a person?

And, by "theists" do you here have in mind (understanding that there is some overlap between these categories):

a.) persons who articulate intellectual belief in the traditional theistic description of "God" (as omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent),

b.) persons who articulate intellectual belief in a single god of any description,

c.) persons who articulate intellectual belief in more than one god of any description, or

d.) persons who practice a religion that articulates beliefs concerning a god or gods, including but not limited to the traditional theistic description of "God" (omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent)?

I ask this, because your characterization of "theists" here, if it is not limited to a very small sampling of the options here, while it may honestly reflect personal frustrations with particularly obnoxious theists, fails, I think, to account for the diversity and humanity of persons who articulate belief in and devotion to a god or gods of various descriptions.

To describe all persons who have any degree of religious devotion or belief concerning a deity as "heartless," or to imply that no religious persons, nor anyone who might be rightly labeled as a "theist," is in any way troubled by "the deaths of children being burned alive," is not only dishonest - in that it fails to account for the facts on the ground (that is, the actual existence of a great many people who might rightly be labeled as "theists" who exhibit a great deal of concern about situations of great suffering) - but would border on hate speech if it weren't so ridiculous.

I hope, then, that when you typed in your comment, you were merely careless, having in mind a few individuals whom you have encountered and have good reason to believe are in fact (or at least appear to be) "heartless." Otherwise, you run the risk of ignorantly painting a vast sea of humanity as insufficiently human.

William Hawthorne said...

I don't think you quite understood Vallicella's point, Mr. Loftus. He admits that, logically speaking, the PoE would remain a challenge for the theist. But dialectically, the atheist must presuppose classical theism. And not just any atheist. Only an atheist who accepts the following proposition:

P: The properties of objective good and evil exist iff God exists.

You ignored this qualificaiton of his. You also ignored his distinction between particular instantiations of evil and the property of being evil, which plays a key role. Essentially, an atheist who accepts P has provided herself with an assumption for a reductio in her own argument. (And there have been atheists who've accepted something like P, e.g. Mackie.) P, along with a couple other plausible premises, implies a contradiction, namely, that God exists and God doesn't exist. Vallicella then correctly pointed out that since anything follows from a contradiction, the theist may calmly conclude that the atheist's argument fails. You also ignored this point. Did you pay any attention to his actual blog entry? You've completely misconstrued it.

Steven Carr said...

Is Hawthorne claiming that because reductio ad absurdum arguments produce a contradiction, they can be 'calmly' ignored?

Just like this alleged god 'calmly' ignores the screams of a child burning to death in a Kenyan church?

Justin said...

I have read a few of your post's and i see many arguments against things you don't believe in. And i can tell you are very much against Christianity. so for someone seeking truth, what is it. what do you believe in. because frankly by screaming about what you don't believe in, you sound just like some "Christians." who all they do is tell you they are against this and against that. life isn't about what you are against it is about what you support. yeah you may get a good argument out of some hardcore evangelicals but if you convince them to your side then what? thanks for reading

Steven Carr said...

LEWIS
"How do you know a line is crooked without having some knowledge of what a straight line is?”

CARR
So Lewis claims he knows what a 'straight line' is?

Whoe made Lewis the person who knows what absolute moral values are?

Could Lewis have given the ultimate moral ruling on whether or not contraception is morally wrong?

If Lewis doesn't absolutely know whether or not contraception is an absolute moral wrong or an absolute moral right, then by his logic he cannot say that machine-gunning pregnant women is a morally acceptable method of birth control.

Lewis argument is stupid , unless he really was so big-headed that he believed that he actually knew what these absolute moral values were.

No Christian has ever been able to come up with a list of absolute moral values that other Christians would not say were wrong.

Abortion? Christians are for it and against it.

Contraception? Christians are for it and against it.


Capital punishment? Christians are for it and against it.

Divorce? Christians are for it and against it.

Homosexual marriage? Christians are for it and against it.


War? Christians are for it and against it.

Slavery? Christians are for it , at least in the past, and against it.


Yet Lewis claims that we cannot say what is 'crooked' , unless we know what 'straight' is.

Totally asinine.

John W. Loftus said...

Hawthorne, did you read what I wrote? Dialectical parity does not play into this argument. The reason is that IT'S NOT STRCITLY SPEAKING AN ATHEIST ARGUMENT AT ALL...AT ALL! Atheists use it to make their case, but it makes no difference who makes the argument. Point in fact: If this argument succeeds it doesn't lead to atheism. It just denies the classical understanding of an Omni-God, something Process thinkers also deny.

David B. Ellis said...


It concerns the problem of evil and whether or not the atheist can make that argument without an objective standard to know evil.


The argument from the problem of evil can be easily formulated in such a way that its is just as valid if moral subjectivism is true.

In other words, to argue, not that it would be wrong for God to allow unnecessary suffering (though one CAN argue this validly), but that it would be inconsistent with his professed loving nature to do so.

Observe that this does not require for a loving nature to be objectively morally right, only for the observed behavior (inaction in the face of extreme suffering he could easily prevent) to be highly inconsistent with his purported disposition.

Personally, I prefer to formulate the POE this way, not because I don't think the atheist can argue effectively for a nontheistic basis for moral truths, but simply because once the discussion gets diverted into meta-ethics it never gets back to the actual topic of the POE. This formulation of the POE prevents this diversion from the topic at hand from being an option for the theist debater.

matt said...

What's funny about this whole position is that their own god doesn't even fit the "Ultimate Good" label they place upon him. By their own moral standards, god is actually a horrible example of how to behave.

If their knowledge of god comes from the bible, and the god of the bible does not act ultimately good, they obviously get their ideas for what is good and what is evil from outside of the bible, and thus, outside of god.

Not to mention that good and evil is a theme older than any of the primitive tribal cults that we recognize as major religions today - so this argument doesn't even stand up to history.

Amenhotep said...

Agreed it's a rubbish argument. By the same token, a perfect circle would have to "exist" in order for us to appreciate the concept of "roundness". Morality closely mirrors the DUOAYWHTDUY (do unto others...) "golden rule", which as a rule is almost mathematical in its principles of advance reciprocity, and indeed can be modelled in population simulations (and for many situations shown to be evolutionarily favourable).

We humans have evolved a "moralometer" incorporating parameters of "morality" that really only make sense in this model. So there's no evidence for a god (much less a "good god") here.

Furthermore, if we return to our circle example (or a straight line for that matter), "perfection" in these examples is never realised in *reality*, but only in mathematics. Which kicks St Anselm's ontological argument in the short & curlies - existence in reality is always *inferior* to existence in some conceptual "platonic realm".

The kicker in all this is that it makes perfect sense if we conceive of reality in a mathematical sense. Max Tegmark has written some good stuff about this, e.g.: http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/toe_frames.html

IrishFarmer said...

If you're going to claim that evil is an internal inconsistency in the Christian faith, then you aren't being very consistent.

I think the problem, John, that people have with your argument is the way you word it. You speak of evil as if it has an objective existence outside of Christian beliefs. "What about the kind of pain that turns our stomachs?" What about it? According to you, it only matters if it would logically turn the stomach of a Christian, or a person with Christian-like beliefs.

You'd be better off wording it this way: "What about the kind of evil that turns the stomachs of those with Christian-like values, and which is considered objectively evil only within the beliefs of those like Christians?"

It just seems to me like you're speaking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand, claiming immunity because its an internal problem for the Christian, while on the other hand you appeal to a general sense of objective morality as if everyone has it, and as if it applies to everyone (including atheists).

exapologist said...

I guess I don't see the force of the argument. Why am I supposed to think that objective moral facts exist iff God exists?

exapologist said...

That comment was aimed at Valicella's original argument, btw.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I don't know if I'd call it a "proving ground" but I do see my life as an exercise in putting into practice and expressing all that I have experienced and processed and come to value as a result of my "being".

I"ve experienced that there is a Way that recognizes and responds to evil from a compassionate, responsive foundation as opposed to a reaction towards evil out of fear and contempt.

Prior to faith, I never had a standard by which to recognize or know about pure love. Is that what you are referring to as assinine??

By Y'shua's standards, my former expression of love was tantamount to murder on a spiritual level - I had been infected with and indoctrinated into accepting contempt as an acceptable habit within relationships. I was blind to it at the time and by grace, I am able to say that there is another Way void of contempt and condescension.

Also, John mentioned the term "fideism" - I acknowledge that seems a reasonable way to describe my former perspective consistant with nonbelief - afterall, does it appear reasonable to be a proactive and passionate pacifist in the face of persecution? Is it reasonable to foresee one's own crucifixion and refer to it as a "distraction"? Is it reasonable to love those who hold you in contempt?? In imaginery scenarios, it seems possibly heroic, but I believe I really need something to turn towards (rather than express, suppress or repress feelings) when I turn the other cheek away from an adhominem attack. Thanks!

BTW, even though I used to believe myself to be a nonbeliever, God didn't see me that way - He viewed me with loving grace and saw me with potential - not condemnation. By faith, I don't always view people according to the labels they take on.

William Hawthorne said...

exapologist,

I guess I don't see the force of the argument. Why am I supposed to think that objective moral facts exist iff God exists?

Vallicella's project clearly did not involve arguing directly for the biconditional. His conclusion was this: supposing an atheist accepts the biconditional and tries to get a certain argument from evil off the ground, she presupposes God.

Haven't you and Mr. Loftus ever encountered a paper in philosophy that argues for a conditional conclusion? Maybe you should go back and read Vallicella's article a bit more carefully.

exapologist said...

Hi William,

My comment was written in the context of John's post, viz., as a response to Reppert's construal of Vallicella's point in the title of his recent post -- it's not a response to the way that Vallicella put the point.

Best,

EA

M said...

Agreed it's a rubbish argument. By the same token, a perfect circle would have to "exist" in order for us to appreciate the concept of "roundness".

Actually, this is an improper way of looking at the argument.

A perfect circle and roundess are mutual things; that is, they carry the very same characteristic.

The argument that may be being touted here is that in order for something to be realized, it's opposite or something that is distinct and in relation to said object must exists.

I point this out in a former article as well as my latest article on the CADRE.

If, for instance and hypothetically speaking, if there was only one temperature on our planet (72 degrees or something) and there was never an experience other than that temperature, than qualities of "hot", "cold", and even the label of "72" would be unealized concepts and unknown to the people that experience it.

Mr. Loftus, for instance in trying to debunk this qualification insisted in the same wrongful manner that we do not need to appreciate good health by experiencing "disease". Certainly, but we do need to experience bad health in order to even know what we are experiencing is "good".

The Problem of Evil then, doesn't become a problem at all, but an absolute necessity in order to even percieve good.

Whether or not there is "too much" evil or not is a totally different issue.

William Hawthorne said...

Exapologist,

"[My] comment was aimed at Valicella's original argument, btw."

"My comment was written in the context of John's post, viz., as a response to Reppert's construal of Vallicella's point in the title of his recent post -- it's not a response to the way that Vallicella put the point."

?

Will

exapologist said...

No -- the point of the first comment you quote here was to say that I was aiming my question at the argument John and Vic were discussing, and not as a reaction or response to previous commenters in the thread. I didn't realize that the argument Vic and John were discussing was different than Bill's until after the fact.

Amenhotep said...

m, you miss the point; indeed Lewis was the one raising idealised concepts (like the straight line) as ideals, allowing us to recognise the non-ideal.

It makes perfect sense for us to be able to distinguish between situations based on how they affect human relationships. That's the reference frame. The need for an external validator is the fallacy.

-A

William Hawthorne said...

Steven,

"Is Hawthorne claiming that because reductio ad absurdum arguments produce a contradiction, they can be 'calmly' ignored?"

Yes.

Just like this alleged god 'calmly' ignores the screams of a child burning to death in a Kenyan church?

How did you arrive at the knowledge that God "ignores" things, if he exists? And where's your "knock-down argument" exactly? There aren't even any premises and conclusions.

William Hawthorne said...

Got it, ex. Thanks. You might stop by Vallicella's blog to read the way he originally framed it. It's pretty interesting actually.

exapologist said...

Hi Will,

I agree. I generally like B.V.'s blog. Also: have you taken a look at the Prosblogion blog? Good stuff as well. As it happens, they're having an interesting discussion over there on B.V.'s argument.

Best,

EA

William Hawthorne said...

Loftus,

did you read what I wrote?

In its entirety. And I agree with a lot of it. But unfortunately you haven't addressed the specific argument that Vallicella made, which turns out to be much different than the "asinine" one you attributed to him.

Did you take the time to read it at his blog, or did you post your commentary in reaction only to the question on Prof. Reppert's site?

William Hawthorne said...

Ex. Yes, I've seen the prosblogion discussion on it. Good stuff indeed.

Steven Carr said...

Hawthorne says reductio ad absurdum arguments can be ignored?

How asinine!

And he still doesn't explain why we cannot know that machine gunning pregnant women is an unacceptable method of birth control until his alleged god gives a ruling on whether or not contraception is moral.

-------------------
M

Certainly, but we do need to experience bad health in order to even know what we are experiencing is "good"

CARR
But only a god can tell us what good health is...

Unless this is another of the Lewis-type asinine analogies.

M said...

m, you miss the point; indeed Lewis was the one raising idealised concepts (like the straight line) as ideals, allowing us to recognise the non-ideal.

It makes perfect sense for us to be able to distinguish between situations based on how they affect human relationships. That's the reference frame. The need for an external validator is the fallacy.


It seems that if the distinction of said experiences in reference to their VALUE is purely subjective, then Lewis' argument seems to hold water in that something objective is required for that value to be established.

Steven Carr said...

Lewis, of course, had never in his life heard one objective moral value given to him by any alleged god.


So how did he claim to know that it was wrong for the Nazis to kill Jewish children and right for the Jews to kill Canaanite children?

And how can people like Valicella say something is wrong when they claim themselves that they cannot do that unless an alleged god gives them absolute moral values - which no god has ever done?

Steven Carr said...

I see Steve Hays at Triablogue is already repeating the slander I said that Christians repeat - that atheists believe that children and marshmallows are fundamentally the same thing , and so burning one is the same as burning the other.

One problem with the problem of evil is that many Christians are so evil themselves that they cannot recognise evil when they see it.

If their god allows a child to burn to death in a Kenyan church while screaming for help, they think their god is righteous for allowing that to happen.

One point of the problem of evil is to show that many Christians worship Satan, but call him God.

M said...

Lewis, of course, had never in his life heard one objective moral value given to him by any alleged god.

So are you stating that "hearing" is the only way to experience things?


So how did he claim to know that it was wrong for the Nazis to kill Jewish children and right for the Jews to kill Canaanite children?

Lewis claims that such a standard exists and that the he believes in said standard.


And how can people like Valicella say something is wrong when they claim themselves that they cannot do that unless an alleged god gives them absolute moral values - which no god has ever done?

Refer to my questions and answers above. Futhermore, if you are going to claim that merely because people disagree on which Being is the standard, this therefore means that there is no such standard, I would stray away from such a non-sequitor.

M said...

I see Steve Hays at Triablogue is already repeating the slander I said that Christians repeat - that atheists believe that children and marshmallows are fundamentally the same thing , and so burning one is the same as burning the other.

Perhaps you don't, but if you believe morality to be subjective, then you are merely not being consistent with the belief that Mr. Hays is stating.

You cannot sit there and make a distinction of value between one preference or the other when you believe all there are are preferences.

One problem with the problem of evil is that many Christians are so evil themselves that they cannot recognise evil when they see it.

I don't see how this is an argument for the Problem of Evil.

If their god allows a child to burn to death in a Kenyan church while screaming for help, they think their god is righteous for allowing that to happen.

While some Christians may assert that because God allowed X child to burn makes Him righteous, does not mean that all Christian believe this way.

The fact that God allows X child to burn may simply not have an affect on the status of His righteousness.

One point of the problem of evil is to show that many Christians worship Satan, but call him God.

Sorry, I don't understand what you're trying to get at here.

zilch said...

The problem with the PoE argument, imho, is that Christians can and do claim that God's "good" is not the same as our human ideas of "good". That is of course unanswerable by atheists, since we cannot know what God might consider to be good, especially if (as many Christians also claim) God's goodness is only complete in the afterlife, where all the burning kids (if they're Christians) presumably get especially nice treats in Heaven.

This does, however, leave such Christians in what would I would consider an embarrasing position: that since there is no correspondence between God's "good" and our "good", or at most an incomprehensible one ("God's ways are mysterious") there's no point in worriting ourselves about burning babies and such, unless God tells us to do so. And that renders ideas about God's "omnibenevolence" pretty meaningless too, at least in our sinful mortal sense that burning babies is not necessarily a sign of "benevolence".

But if getting your ticket to Heaven is the only important thing, who cares about such petty details?

Steven Carr said...

M
Lewis claims that such a standard exists and that the he believes in said standard.

CARR
Lewis also claims to know what that standard was.

How? According to him, he needed a god to tell him what is was, and no god has ever done any such thing.

M
Futhermore, if you are going to claim that merely because people disagree on which Being is the standard, this therefore means that there is no such standard, I would stray away from such a non-sequitor.

CARR
So M doesn't even bother trying the impossible task of showing that any alleged being has told us absolute moral standards.

But without an absolute moral standard from an (alleged) beings about, for example contraception, people like Valicella claim we cannot say that machine-gunning pregnant women is an unacceptable method of birth control.

Which shows what idiocy their beliefs are, as there is no being to give these absolute moral values.


M
The fact that God allows X child to burn may simply not have an affect on the status of His righteousness.

CARR
What a load of utter trash!

M clearly would worship Satan if Satan existed and said he was righteous, because M would simply not care if Satan allowed children to burn to death.

SadEvilTan said...

Hi guys, fascinating to read about some of the 'pros & cons' on this particular issue, but the one that stands out most in my view is Irish farmers, he says: If you're going to claim that evil is an 'internal consistency' in the Christian faith, then you aren't being very consistent. Then he goes on to say: you'd be better off wording it this way. "What about the kind of evil that turns the stomachs of those with Christian-like values?" We can all look back in time & say, this was evil! He/she was evil! That was evil! But surely the key question should be this. The recognition of evil, in the past or in the present,is not a simple matter. Rather than seeing evil, we can see only what others have seen & defined as evil. If our visual recognition of evil depends on our definition of it, then an examination of the words we use to describe evil should lead us to an answer to the basic question, what or who is evil? So what words do we use to make our definition? What labels? And beyond this, from what vocabularies are these words drawn?
Here's a brief drescription of some of the terms used through the ages, that may appear as being evil during that particular period; crazy, lunatic, insanity, irrationality, deranged, hysteria, weird, take your pick!...Different historical periods, cultures, classes, sexes & professions all have their own vocabularies within which these groups render their particular experience of the world. These vocabularies form an entire language, a discourse. Evil has been described & constituted by as many discourses as all other areas of human experience. Insanity has it's theology, it's morality, it's natural science, it's sociology, it's psychology & it's politics. Anyway hope this is helpful in going some way to providing you all with an explanation of the term EVIL!...

Amenhotep said...

m said:
It seems that if the distinction of said experiences in reference to their VALUE is purely subjective, then Lewis' argument seems to hold water in that something objective is required for that value to be established.

Not at all. All that is required is for us to distinguish a difference, and that can be entirely based on human experience (even idealism). It most certainly does not require some objective determinant to "exist" anywhere other than in our minds.

Would you argue that the fact that some jokes are funnier than others, and some are not funny at all, indicates that there must exist a Perfect Comedian?

??!

M said...

Not at all. All that is required is for us to distinguish a difference, and that can be entirely based on human experience (even idealism). It most certainly does not require some objective determinant to "exist" anywhere other than in our minds.

Would you argue that the fact that some jokes are funnier than others, and some are not funny at all, indicates that there must exist a Perfect Comedian?

??!


I would find that to be a bad analogy as I distinguish between certain things being subjective and other things as not being subjective. The content of humor is explicitly subjective to an individual and has no objective basis. If one is to claim that something is "wrong" or "right" they require an objective basis.

Certainly you can distinguish between differences, but how this has an affect on their value is a totally different story. Also, you cannot claim that an objective source is our own minds, since our minds clearly do not fit within the context of "objective".

The only way the analogy of humor actually has any merit is if you believe that the subjectivity regarding humor is in the same light as morality, which then I would say disqualifies you from making any meaningful judgement of value other than simply how you feel about said object or person.

So basically, your opinions on morality hold no more judgement in value than my tastes in ice cream.

Jennifer said...

By Irishfarmer:

I think the problem, John, that people have with your argument is the way you word it. You speak of evil as if it has an objective existence outside of Christian beliefs. "What about the kind of pain that turns our stomachs?" What about it? According to you, it only matters if it would logically turn the stomach of a Christian, or a person with Christian-like beliefs.

I agree.

John,
How DO you measure evil? What constitutes suffering?

What counts as evil in my atheist worldview is a separate problem from the Christian problem of evil.

Can you really say you have a purely atheist view when you were raised in a culture with predominantly Christian values?

Amenhotep said...

m,
If one is to claim that something is "wrong" or "right" they require an objective basis.

Not even slightly. It's even enshrined in the one thing that Jesus plausibly got right: the "Golden Rule". The bottom line is that things (like cancer, malaria, volcanoes, mudslides) are not "evil" in and of themselves (how the heck do you "objectify" such things?), but in the effects they have on human beings (or rational beings if you prefer).

Similarly for actions: it is not a matter of whether *I* regard an action as moral or otherwise, but how it will be regarded by the other people it affects.

Your use of the word "subjective" implies "personal preference", but that is not what we are talking about here. Neither are we talking about something "objective" like temperature, which can be measured (and you can't slag me for using crap analogies when you're using crapper ones ;-)

We are talking about the *effects* these have on people (or other plausibly sentient beings), so it is purely in the *human* sphere. It is entirely correct for John to label Lewis's argument "asinine" for that reason. No objective observer or validator is required - we do this for ourselves.

Otherwise you might wish to speculate on whether Supernova 1987A was "an evil" (it would have been pretty miserable if you'd been anywhere near it) or "a good" (which it certainly has been for earth-based astronomers and physicists).

Cheers,
-A

Scott said...

M: "If, for instance and hypothetically speaking, if there was only one temperature on our planet (72 degrees or something) and there was never an experience other than that temperature, than qualities of "hot", "cold", and even the label of "72" would be unealized concepts and unknown to the people that experience it. "

However, if there was a substance that melted at a temperature of 72 degrees, would that substance cease to melt since no other temperatures existed?

What about the idea of loud or soft sounds? The human eardrum bursts in the presence of direct and continuous exposure to sounds over 140db. If every sound occurred at a volume of 140db, would human eardrums suddenly stop bursting when a sound was produced?

The same could be said about good and evil. Good would have the same properties as it did without evil. We just wouldn't have a name for it as there would no need to quantify it.

M:"...but we do need to experience bad health in order to even know what we are experiencing is 'good'."

We're not talking about knowing, were talking about existing.

If only good heath was possible, can it be anything but "good" in God's eyes? No other health would be possible. To rephrase, can God decide that good heath is "good", but exclude the possibility of anything but "bad" heath?

This appears to be a rather illogical scenario.

M said...

However, if there was a substance that melted at a temperature of 72 degrees, would that substance cease to melt since no other temperatures existed?

What about the idea of loud or soft sounds? The human eardrum bursts in the presence of direct and continuous exposure to sounds over 140db. If every sound occurred at a volume of 140db, would human eardrums suddenly stop bursting when a sound was produced?

The same could be said about good and evil. Good would have the same properties as it did without evil. We just wouldn't have a name for it as there would no need to quantify it.


Your analogies fail because they don't represent the claims I'm actually making. All I'm saying is that in the absence of a distinction in relation to said object, there is no distinction therefore to be made and the object becomes unrealized, especially in regards to things of value.

So good could exists without evil, which is nothing I am denying. What I'm saying is that Evil and Good are Epistemologically necessary for one another. But in saying that something is epistemologically necessary, then it must also be admitted that it is ontologically necessary.

We're not talking about knowing, were talking about existing.

Well, I'm talking about knowing in this example.

If only good heath was possible, can it be anything but "good" in God's eyes?

It would lose it's qualification for "good". What is "good" without "bad"?

No other health would be possible. To rephrase, can God decide that good heath is "good", but exclude the possibility of anything but "bad" heath?

No.

This appears to be a rather illogical scenario.

How so?

M said...

Not even slightly. It's even enshrined in the one thing that Jesus plausibly got right: the "Golden Rule". The bottom line is that things (like cancer, malaria, volcanoes, mudslides) are not "evil" in and of themselves (how the heck do you "objectify" such things?), but in the effects they have on human beings (or rational beings if you prefer).

How do you objectify the effects these things have on people then? You claim no objectivity, but you seem to suggests an objective basis for calling something bad.

Similarly for actions: it is not a matter of whether *I* regard an action as moral or otherwise, but how it will be regarded by the other people it affects.

What makes it any different? Unless you are trying to say objectively that other people's opinions are somehow better than your own.

Your use of the word "subjective" implies "personal preference", but that is not what we are talking about here. Neither are we talking about something "objective" like temperature, which can be measured (and you can't slag me for using crap analogies when you're using crapper ones ;-)

I suggests reading up on moral philosophy because subjective, while it does mean "personal", objective is not meant to mean something that is measurable or testable, but something that is right or wrong independantly of human perception; that means a transcendant source of that morality.

We are talking about the *effects* these have on people (or other plausibly sentient beings), so it is purely in the *human* sphere. It is entirely correct for John to label Lewis's argument "asinine" for that reason. No objective observer or validator is required - we do this for ourselves.

So it's subjective.

Otherwise you might wish to speculate on whether Supernova 1987A was "an evil" (it would have been pretty miserable if you'd been anywhere near it) or "a good" (which it certainly has been for earth-based astronomers and physicists).

I could speculate on whether something was evil or not dependant on if I believe there is an objective source from which to gather that that something is evil.

You are confusing the object by which the morality is applied from the source it is taken from...and I don't even know why you are doing this.

Amenhotep said...

m, I recommend you read a little *less* moral philosophy, and do some thinking from first principles. John's point about the internal inconsistency of the theist position (should one Lewis's duff argument) is solid, and we're now onto slightly different (if related) ground.

You seem to be suggesting that we need an external objective standard to call something "bad", otherwise we are in the realm of subjectivity, as if that were an individual thing. With actions, however, this is not the case - you need to get at least 2 people to arrive at some sort of consensus - the actor (if you like) and the poor sod who has to deal with the downstream effects. You are also discounting the fact that we are inherently an empathetic species. If I see a kid with a broken leg, I feel sad for him, and want to help him.

Now that seems like plenty, and no "objective" transcendent thingy is required to make a call as to whether or not consensus has been reached.

The existence or otherwise of some "objective moral standard" (the shape of which, incidentally, you are unable to demonstrate) is entirely unnecessary.

In fact, it seems from your argument that the real reason you wish there to be an *actual* objective moral standard is that you dislike the alternative, namely that when we label something as "good" or "bad", we are humans applying a label that has as much meaning as "sexy", "funny", "ugly" or whatever. The only difference in the "good" and "bad" thing is that we take the opinions of those affected by the thing in question into consideration.

We're humans. We're smart chimps. This is what we do. If you're proposing some superior level of measurement, it is up to you to demonstrate it, not just voice your horror at the situation as-is.

(It's "dependent", by the way).

-A

Scott said...

Scott: "No other health would be possible. To rephrase, can God decide that good heath is "good", but exclude the possibility of anything but "bad" heath?"

M: "No."

Then, if God exists and only good heath exists, we can come the conclusion that good heath is 'Good' in God's eyes.

What other conclusion can we come up with?

While we may not appreciate good heath without experiencing bad heath, this does not prevent us knowing good heath would be "Good" in God's eyes.

larryniven said...

I seem to have missed a large amount of this, but the most telling comment I've read is the following:

"His conclusion was this: supposing an atheist accepts the biconditional [that objective evil exists iff God exists] and tries to get a certain argument from evil off the ground, she presupposes God."

Okay, but so what? This is how philosophy has worked since at least Socrates: step 1, assume your opponent's premise; step 2, show a contradiction; step 3, conclude that your opponent must be wrong somewhere along the line. This is how the PoE works - at what point does the atheist (or whoever) argue a self-defeating system? In fact, the author seems to have made a stronger argument against Christianity than for it. When he isn't inventing atheist straw men, all he's doing is arguing in favor of (yes, in favor of) the PoE's ultimate effectiveness. Allow me to explain:

His contradiction follows from assuming that objective evils exist (from which it follows that such a property as objective evil exists) and that God exists <=> objective morality exists - so what has he proven, by the end of his article? That the theist must either surrender the fact that objective evils exist or the biconditional. If they choose to surrender the former, they've essentially abandoned their theism. If they choose the latter, they have some options. Assuming that God's existence doesn't imply an objective morality is equally detrimental to their overall goal. According to Vallicella, then, in order for a theist to maintain his view, he must reject the idea that an objective standard of evil implies God's existence. This, though, has been a rhetorical (although, as John points out, fallacious) staple of Christian apologetics for a long while, so in the end Vallicella's article only helps the atheist and it's hard to see what the hell he thinks he's talking about when he says the theist can calmly ignore anything.

This entire discussion borders on the absurd...

Scott said...

Just reread my post and noticed it required clarification.

("Good" and "Bad" would be God's position on heath. 'Good' and 'bad' without quotes is our position on heath.)

01. God Exists

02.a Good heath is "Good" in God's eyes. Only good heath is possible.

02.b Bad heath is "Good" in God's eyes. Only good heath is possible.

02.c Good heath is "Good" in God's eyes. Both good heath and bad heath are possible.

In 02.a we can assume that good heath is what God want's because that's the only option we have. 02.b seems illogical since we can have nothing but good heath. Why would God create such a situation? In 02.c we can appreciate good heath since bad heath exists.

Of course, if you assume that Good and Evil transcends God, this argument wouldn't be valid.