Another Failed Christian Attempt to Explain Away Suffering: Mary Jo Sharp's Review of the 2nd Loftus/Wood Debate

I have debated David Wood in person on the problem of suffering for his belief in the Christian God. If you haven’t yet seen it you can do so by clicking here. (My PowerPoint presentation was not in sync for the first 3 ½ minutes). Later on January 12th 2007, I was on “The Debate Hour” with Mr. Wood once again debating the problem of evil, which was hosted by Reginald Finley (i.e. the Infidel Guy). It no longer seems to be available online. Mary Jo Sharp of Confident Christianity called this second debate "another failed argument from evil" so it’s time I comment on her criticisms, even if so late. I said I would write a response to her, so better late than never, especially since I now see she has a link to it on her blog.

The topic of the debate was expressed in a question: “Does the extent of suffering in the world make the existence of God implausible?” But it wasn’t a formal debate. In a formal debate each participant is given a certain amount of time for an opening statement; a rebuttal or two, or three; time for questions and answers; and then a final statement, or something like this. Our debate was one-on-one for about an hour and a half, if I remember the time correctly, with Finley commenting and interjecting a few questions during that time. If someone put a stop watch on it then Wood dominated with about 65% of the time, Findley with 10% of the time, and me with the remaining 25% of the time. Most always when I began speaking Wood interrupted me. Finley did not give me equal time. I was just not going to get in a shouting match, which would’ve been required several times to get a word in edge-wise.

I shall not rebut every point Sharp made. It’s not necessary, although I think I treat most everything she said in what follows. We just see things differently, no doubt. I did make a formal argument, too, which was earlier expressed clearly in our first debate in my opening statement, of which this second debate was a continuation of that one.

Sharp wrote:
Loftus claims that he is looking at this world and asking whether or not God exists while Wood already believes God exists and is trying to explain intense suffering “given that prior belief.” From the outset of his argument, Loftus assumes that only the theist has prior commitment to a belief. However, this idea is oblivious to the atheist’s own commitment to the non-existence of God, which is a governing worldview itself. Loftus takes the position of being the only one who is able to objectively argue due to his non-commitment to a religion, whereas Wood must “punt” to his worldview considering the reality of evil. I do not find a solid line of reasoning for Loftus’s statement; it is simply an attempt to discredit the ability of a theist to argue objectively. However, both the theist and the atheist come to the debate carrying their worldviews on their back.
Well, in the first place my worldview includes every belief I have about the world, but atheism, per se, is not a worldview. There are many kinds of atheism and many differences among people who call themselves atheists. Another thing Sharp should realize, but which most theists don't understand, is that the only thing I affirm is that Christians have not made their case. My atheism is a position of last regard. I came to it by the process of elimination. She herself is an atheist when it comes to Islam. I just reject her God with the same confidence she rejects the Muslim faith. I simply reject one more God than she does. I don’t think any believer in any religion has made her case. I don’t even have to make a case that there is no God, but I do. Furthermore, since the argument from evil is a serious problem for the believer, as admitted by everyone who has ever written about it (otherwise why write on a non-problem?), then if this is the only issue we had to deal with to settle the question of the omni-God's existence, it would be obvious that such a God does not exist. Christians retreat, or punt, to background beliefs to help settle this problem without which they would not believe in the first place. I mean really, if she looked at this present world and were asked whether or not an omni-God created it without reference to any other background belief of hers, I dare say she would conclude as I do.

Sharp wrote:
What kind of world should we expect an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good being to create? Wood handles the question by suggesting that a world in which human pleasure is maximized and human pain is minimized is not what would be expected of this type of Creator. He posits a two-world theodicy in which ‘good’ is maximized: this world with its goods, and the next world (heaven) with its goods. Neither world can contain all of the goods (since some of them are mutually exclusive) and therefore the best possible situation is one with both worlds, in which the world of greater goods is eternal and the world of lesser goods is a limited world.
The words "lesser goods" is a euphemism for things like gang rapes, genocide, witch hunts, brutal slavery, the Indonesian tsunami, cholera, hurricanes, the Brazilian Wandering Spider, and many parasites of which it's estimated that from them one person every ten seconds dies. Yeah, these are "lesser goods." Well if these things are "lesser goods," then what would it take for Wood or Sharp to call something evil? And what notion of a perfectly good God do they have anyway, that would allow for these "lesser goods"? The bottom line is that Wood is expressing a consequentialist ethic in his two world's theodicy, in which the ends (heavenly existence) justify the means (earthly existence). Conservative Christians reject such an ethic, so my challenge is for them to be consistent. Either acknowledge the argument from evil succeeds, or change your ethic.

Sharp wrote:
In order to maximize good, this world could not be by-passed, for there are goods in this world that cannot be achieved in the heavenly world in God’s full presence. Wood gives several examples of the goods of this world, including the choice of whether or not we will follow God, morality, and virtues such as courage and compassion. Morality in this world is only possible due to our free will to choose whether or not we will act morally. If God’s presence were fully known in this world, either His presence would overwhelm human will or humans would only be following God due to a fear of being “zapped” by this all-powerful watchman. By contrast, the goods of the heavenly realm include a lack of suffering and the full presence of God—the latter being the ultimate good.
With regard to the two world's theodicy, what possible good can come in this world that is important in the next one? Courage, generosity, and compassion are only needed in the face of poverty, suffering and pain, so how are these virtues even needed in heaven without pain and suffering? Besides, I truly think neither Wood nor Sharp understands the nature and value of free will.

I also find it very odd that in order to exonerate God they must explain the lack of his revealed goodness due to an "epistemic distance," otherwise known as divine hiddenness. I find no satisfactory understanding for why God created in the first place such that he wanted any creatures to love him. Theists ask if God is to be blamed for creating this world and for wanting people who freely love him. Yes, most definitely yes, until or unless she can tell me why a supposedly reasonable triune completely self-fulfilled God wanted this in the first place (“grace” is not an answer at all); why libertarian free-will is such an important value to God when compared to the sufferings that have resulted from this so-called gift; whether human beings actually have free-will if God created us with our specific DNA and placed us within a specific environment (an environment that actually obstructs many people from receiving the gospel because of the “accidents of birth”); why God suspends some people’s free choices (i.e. Pharaoh) but not others; why God even cares to have free-willed people who love him, knowing full well the consequences for the billions of people who wind up in hell (the collateral damage), and why God will allow sinners in hell to retain their freedom but take it away from the saints in heaven (and who subsequently completes the sanctification process for these saints without their own free choices doing it).

There are three attributes of God we're dealing with here, God's power, his love and his knowledge. God must reveal his love to us irregardless of whether he reveals his power to us. If a man courts a woman and tests her to see if she loves him by not showing her his true love, then that is quite simply a false test. If she doesn't see him as a loving person she will naturally reject him. So the woman would not actually be rejecting that man but only the man he showed himself to be. And so likewise, if God is all-knowing then he would know we only rejected a false caricature of him and not who he really is. So I find it wildly improbable to think this settles anything for Sharp or Wood or any Christian theist. Maybe Mary Jo should try this on her own children if she has any, and see how her own children react to it. See what that gets her as a mother and she'll understand the seriousness of the problem.

Sharp wrote:
At this point in the program, Reginald Finley, the host, asked how Satan could have been in God’s perfect presence and yet still rebelled. However, this is a misunderstanding of the theodicy. In Wood’s theodicy, this present world and the restored, future world are the two worlds. The “heavenly realm” from which Satan fell could not have been a place of God’s full presence or Loftus would be correct in stating that Satan would be “dumber than a box of rocks” for rebelling. More accurately, Satan would not have been able to rebel in the full presence of God. So this original heavenly realm is not the same as the restored heaven and earth to come. Loftus interjected, “So there’s a rule change then.”
Yes, I "interjected" because that's all I could do as Wood droned on.

Satan is a mythical figure derived mostly during the inter-testamental literature. He was not viewed as an evil being in the Old Testament itself. In the OT Satan was a fully credentialed member of the heavenly court who is best described as a prosecutor, the high ranking head of the ancient barbaric "thought police." Prosecutors are not evil because they are doing their jobs and we find him in God's heavenly court a few times in the history of Israel simply doing his job. As such he was not the serpent in the Garden of Eden earlier, otherwise God later allowed sin in his presence if he allowed Satan to be a member of his heavenly court. Christians deny God allows sin in his presence and they also claim sinners could not bear to be in God's presence. So why do we find Satan in God's presence doing God's will later in passages like Job 1-2; Numbers 22:22-32; II Samuel 24:1 (cf. I Chron. 21:1); and Zechariah 3:1-5?

But even if Wood's concocted view is correct, he has merely pushed back the problem of evil before the Fall of humankind. Why didn't God allow Satan into his direct immediate presence to see all of his power and love such that Satan would neither desire to rebel against him or think he could succeed? Because of this divine decision every person who suffers in this world and every person who will suffer for all eternity (along with Satan himself) will do so because God failed to show Satan his love and power. Apologists say God did this to show us his glory and grace, but then that's using people for his own ends. This is the ethic of consequentialism, again. Why does God hide his love from his creatures, for instance, knowing it would cause such intense suffering? This theodicy sounds much more like an excuse for what God should have done than it offers anything by way of a reasonable justification for a so-called perfectly good God.

Given the suffering that resulted from Satan's supposed rebellion, why didn't God simply deal with him and put him down immediately? That's what a good and reasonable ruler would do. Listen, does a perfectly good God want a peaceable kingdom, or not? A good ruler would not allow such an evil in his kingdom in the first place. Evil like that is to be eliminated as soon as possible by a good ruler. Too many innocents would be hurt if he didn't do this immediately.

Sharp wrote:
The argument Loftus presents, at its foundation, reasons that if God had foreknowledge of those who would choose Him and those who would not, He should have only made those who would choose Him. This argument essentially disregards free will, making it appear as practically useless in this world.
Not so. If God has foreknowledge of future free-willed contingent actions then he could foreknow our free choices. We wouldn't have to actually choose anything since if God has this kind of foreknowledge he would already know who would.

Sharp wrote:
Loftus believes that it would be better for us to have no free will, but to live a utopian life in which peace, happiness, and health are maximized. Although I have seen this type of existence portrayed on Star Trek, I highly doubt this is the type of existence we really desire. In listening to Loftus, I wondered if he had spent any time formulating what that type of existence would actually look like.
I'm merely thinking of what the theist conceives heaven to be: a heavenly existence, is after all, the one Christians believe they will experience in the future, with an incorruptible body including eternal peace and happiness in a world of utter bliss.

Sharp wrote:
Loftus uses instances of immense suffering to bolster his argument, but he ignores the issues of “not-so-immense” suffering such as the girl who doesn’t feel ‘pretty enough’ who wants to commit suicide. How would this situation be remedied in Loftus’s utopia? Would God therefore have to make every person look alike so as to avoid even the smallest amount of suffering? (He does argue that God should have only created one race of people.)
Listen, the argument from evil is only as forceful as the suffering that exists in this present world. If there was no intense suffering the argument would lose most of its force. If there was no suffering at all then it would have no force at all. I have struggled in life, although I have not experienced any prolonged intense suffering. I've always had good health, with enough food and money and friends to get by. So if my kinds of struggles are good enough to test me then why couldn't everyone's struggles be no more than mine? Why do some suffer for years and years, and a few commit suicide because of their sufferings? Do they need this suffering whereas I don't? Not everyone suffers the same. Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths while others struggle with financial woes and health issues and the loss of loved ones throughout their whole short lives. Why?

Sharp wrote:
Loftus’s assessment of this life as a cruel game of hide and seek is, to quote him in another statement, “expecting way too little of God.” This judgment of God’s method of Divine expression oversimplifies the total issue. The atheist, as Wood explains later in the debate, has to explain why anything exists at all. The problem is amplified when we consider the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the cosmos for life, the design on earth that enables survival, and the astronomical odds that complex life would arise on this one planet, in order to even get to a brain that can ponder the problem of evil. The theist has a foundation for the existence of God rooted in all of these things to which he then adds theodicies to help make sense of suffering in the world. What evidence should we expect from a God-level intellect concerning His existence? The evidence He has provided in the cosmos, nature, human reasoning, and the written Word allow humankind to thoughtfully consider who we are and where we came from without being mindlessly forced into accepting God as our Creator.
Here is but another example of how Christians count the hits and ignore the misses. They do this with prayer too. If a prayer is answered they count that as a hit. If it's not, they ignore it. With regard to the universe and its form they simply ignore the vast amount of natural evil in it, as I mentioned earlier. One cannot look at this universe objectively and come away believing in the omni-God Sharp believes if she takes into consideration all of the evidence of unintelligent design. At best one should be agnostic about what the evidence can lead us to think. Even if one is to conclude some divine entity created a "quantum wave fluctuation" we don't have an explanation for where this divine being came from, nor whether he still exists, nor whether he is good, or all-powerful. For her to believe in God she must believe in a historically conditioned interpretation of a selected group of ancient anonymous superstitious writings. And we certainly cannot verify the claims of miracles by the historical method, especially as outsiders looking in. Those beliefs of hers are to be described simply as bizzaro! If she understood the full range of problems for the Christian faith, then as I argued with respect to William Lane Craig, she would never have believed in the first place!

Sharp wrote:
In the argument from evil, the atheist points out instances of intense suffering, especially undeserved suffering of innocents such as children and animals. In an attempt to make this the sole issue regarding God’s existence, the atheist skips over any good found in the world. The scales of good and evil thus tip to the evil side making it appear as though evil, all by itself, is enough to prove a godless world. The problem is that the scales are tipped and weighted on one side, not putting enough consideration on the good side. One of the differences in the perspectives on this issue is that Loftus and Finley view this world as bad and the (imaginary for them) future world as good, whereas Wood views this world as good and the future world as good.
This claim of hers is quite simply a red herring. For me personally life is good. That has nothing to do with the argument itself. My claim is that neither Sharp nor Wood can actually see the blood stained whip in the slave master's hand, nor smell the flesh of the witches burned at the stake, nor hear the screams of the woman whose child is eaten alive by a pack of wolves, because they are blinded by their faith. They cover their eyes their noses and their ears to the truth of this world in order to have the comforts of a delusional belief. Whether we think this present world is a good one over-all, probably depends on where we were born. If someone was born in the Gaza Strip, life right now would be terrible. Besides, we're not just talking about whether this world is merely good, anyway. We're talking about whether this world reflects a perfectly good God.

Sharp wrote:
Wood argued thus: Given our world, God can either put animals in it or not put animals in it. If He does put them here, then they are going to be a part of our world, which is governed by natural law. Animals are good-in-themselves. Wood suggests that Loftus’s question is spurious by giving an example of the tiger. Tigers are in danger of going extinct in the wild; however, no one says, “Hooray! Now all the animals the tiger hunts will no longer have to suffer.” In fact, the general feeling is that we should keep tigers from going extinct. Why do we react this way if tigers just cause a lot of pain and suffering? Returning to what Wood said, we must know on some level that animals are good-in-themselves. If we want a world with less animal suffering, then God offers us one—the heavenly world. If we reject that offer, then we still have this world, which is good.
Whether or not we are concerned if tigers go extinct is another red herring. We are concerned because of our delicate ecosystem and its ability to support all life. My question has to do with what God should be concerned about and that makes all the difference in the world. My question is whether or not a fine-tuned ecosystem is more important to God than one in which divine maintenance is needed to correct anything in an incomplete ecosystem, given the massive amount of intense suffering in it. I think God should care more about sentient beings than having a fine-tuned ecosystem that causes this much suffering. Is God lazy, or what? Can God do perpetual miracles by miraculously feeding human beings through the process of photosynthesis without any animals at all--animals who have viciously preyed upon one another for hundreds of thousands of years prior to our arrival on earth? Finally, when it comes to animals do all dogs go to heaven?

Sharp wrote:
...the theist could turn this argument around and ask what a universe should look like without a God and point out all the instances of good, concluding that there must be a God because there is immense good and incredible joy in the world.
Such a tactic undercuts the Christian claims, I think, for such arguments cancel each other out, leaving nothing but a blind indifferent world, which is actually what I'm arguing for.

Sharp wrote:
Nearing the end of the debate, Loftus and Finley agree that naturalism better explains immense suffering in the world. Wood responds by stating that naturalism cannot explain the standard by which the atheist views certain events as evil. Presupposed in the atheist argument is some sort of standard of goodness. Wood explains that though Loftus denies God’s existence, the morality he bases his argument on has as its foundation an absolute Moral Law Giver. Atheists may be able to say that naturalism explains suffering better than theism, but then they have to explain the concept of ‘right and wrong’ through naturalism as well. This is one area where atheism can be seen to lack the explanatory power of theism.
I have dealt with Wood's red herring extensively right here. I have briefly dealt with the problem of an atheistic ethic here. I adjure Wood and Sharp not to try to escape their problem by claiming I have one too. I've adequately deal with my difficulty. They need to adequately deal with theirs.

Sharp wrote:
At one point, Loftus was asking Wood to answer the question, “Was it good that God did not stop the earthquake which caused the Indonesian tsunami?” How would answering this one particular instance explain the universal problem of evil? It would not help. Wood is correct in consistently reminding Loftus that the argument itself needs to be dealt with in order to discern whether the argument is sound. Loftus can ask “why?” all day long, but as Wood has said, “why?” isn’t an argument.
Asking Wood to answer the massive amount of suffering in this world is, I think, an important strategy for a theodicy. My argument, since I couldn't fully express it given Wood's propensity to interrupt me, can certainly be expressed as a rhetorical question, for that's what it was. I say he cannot sufficiently explain why God did not stop that earthquake, for if he had stopped it no one would ever know he stopped it simply because it wouldn't have happend (and thus God would stay "hidden"). If that earthquake was needed for the ecosystem then I see no reason why God didn't wait a few years when better warning systems would be in place. Most importantly I see no reason why an omnipotent God who created the laws of nature could not have performed a perpetual miracle by stopping that earthquake from ever have taken place.

I think the more power a person has then the more of an ethical obligation he has to alleviate suffering. If, for instance, a woman is being gang raped, no one would fault me if I didn't physically try to stop them, for then I would be beaten up and perhaps killed along with her (although I would be held morally responsible if I didn't call the police). But if I was Superman and did nothing then everyone would rightly fault me if I didn't stop them. So since God supposedly has all power he is the most obligated to alleviate suffering in our world. Without a suffient explanation for these things I argue that it's probable such an omni-God doesn't exist. Wood has not made his case.

Sharp wrote:
In the end, Wood shows that the background information presupposed in the argument from evil itself points to theism....Loftus’s argument is that suffering provides enough evidence to lead us away from God. However, suffering itself is just not enough evidence in light of a comprehensive look at the world to move the theist away from a reasoned, evidenced belief in God.
With regard to Wood and Sharp's worldview background beliefs I have thoroughly debunked all of the important ones in my book, one after another. Given the demise of their background worldview beliefs they no longer have a leg to stand on in the face of the massive amount of intense suffering in this world, since it becomes quite obvious that without them they cannot sufficiently explain why a good God allows this suffering.

Sharp wrote:
The theistic worldview explains the conditions assumed in the argument from evil far better than atheism does. In fact, atheism does not satisfactorily account for any of the conditions presupposed in the argument. When the atheist points to suffering as his reason for rejecting the existence of God, he assumes all of these conditions, which atheism simply cannot account for. Hence, theism has far more explanatory power than atheism, and the argument from evil therefore does not make the existence of God implausible.
Atheism, as I understand it simply means one is a non-theist, or a non-believer in the particular religion being discussed. Christians, after all, were called "atheists" by the Romans. So the options are not between being an atheist (qua metaphysical naturalist) or a Christian theist. There are a host of other positions on this question, most notable panentheism, or process theology. My claim is that the more beliefs a person has that are essential to his worldview then the less likely the whole set of beliefs comprising his worldview are true. He must maintain not only that there is a three-in-one God, but that the collection of books in the canonized Bible are all inspired by God, and that God became incarnated through a virgin in Bethlehem, atoned for our sins, resurrected from the grave, and will return, for starters. These beliefs, along with a multifaceted number of others, all stand or fall together. If one is shown wrong then his whole worldview collapses. By contrast, as I said earlier, the only thing I affirm is that Christians have not made their case. My atheism is a position of last regard. I came to it by the process of elimination. I don’t think any believer in any religion has made his case. I don’t even have to make a case that there is no God, although I do.

58 comments:

Eric said...

"My atheism is a position of last regard. I came to it by the process of elimination. She herself is an atheist when it comes to Islam. I just reject her God with the same confidence she rejects the Muslim faith. I simply reject one more God than she does."

Hasn't John Lennox shown the weakness of this claim with his 'marriage/celibacy' analogy, i.e. "Bill may be married, but Bill's celibate with respect to every other woman except his wife; Steve is celibate simply by going one woman further than Bill by not marrying at all." Obviously, Bill is *not* celibate, and it makes no sense at all to say that he's celibate with respect to every woman other than his wife; similarly, a Christian is *not* an atheist, and it makes no sense to say that he is with respect to every other 'possible' god. This move is made so often that I thought I'd comment on its incoherence, even though I know that it's not directly related to the main point of your post!

BTW, I recently bought your book, John, and I look forward to reading it!

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Eric. I think the problem can to be found in how we define the word "atheism." Many a disagreement could be solved if we first defined our terms. I think I did so in my very last link (and also in the comments). See what you think and whether this helps to solve the problem. What Lennox is discussing is not atheism per se, but metaphysical naturalism as a set of beliefs. If a man is celibate, as his example goes, then he's not having any sex and/or isn't marriead at all. Such a marital state would symbolize the agnostic who thinks no metaphysical viewpoint can be defended. I am actually an agnostic atheist (as I define it). Setting aside the irrelevant ethical implications here, count me as one who is merely sleeping with a woman (metaphysical naturalism) in an unmarried state. ;-)

It's really an interesting discussion nonetheless, because if by the process of elimination I deny one-by-one every religious system (which by definition involves some sort of deity or divinity or God) then what is there left to embrace? Metaphysical naturalism become attractive at that point. This best describes the process of my own intellectual thought as well as many many others.

I can envision a metaphysical naturalist going through the same intellectual process by denying his original set of beliefs. What is he left with when he denies metaphysical naturalism? Well, when one leaves that original non-religious set of beliefs there are many religious ones to choose from that no one can tell in advance which one he may adopt. Will he become a deist, pantheist, panentheist, Catholic, Muslim or Jew? No one can tell for sure since they seem to be a dime a dozen all which require faith over evidence and reason and all of which depend on religious experience as a basis for believing.

mjarsulic said...

Loftus/Wood Debate

I think this is the mp3 of your debate from The Debate Hour.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks, I was hoping someone would link it here for us!

Jason Long said...

I too believe this "marriage/celibacy" analogy is somewhere between embarrassingly pathetic and extremely weak. Let me attempt to explain why.

The difference is that Bill knows that, had his wife not been offered as a choice, he would have married someone else. We all know that there was no "one right choice" and that there are probably millions (or at least thousands) of people we could spend our lives with. If all the women in the world were brought before him as a married man, Bill would never dismiss the idea of marrying each woman one by one. He would never claim that his wife is the only person he would ever marry. Bill does not claim he would be celibate if it were not for his wife.

Bill's claim to religion however is that there is one choice and only one choice. He explicitly denies the possibility of other religions being true. Since his is the only one that is true, he could never choose to bond to something that he believes is false.

I will grant that Bill, born in a universe without Christianity, would have chosen whatever religion he was born into (which shows the absurdity of religious preference), but it would have been one he explicitly rejected in our previous universe. No such rejections were made with other women.

Bill knows that there almost no way he got the "right" or "best" wife. Despite how pleased he is with his wife, he must admit that there were hundreds of thousands of candidates, and the odds of him having chosen the best one is extremely remote.

This is why I believe the analogy fails.

Confident Christianity said...

Hey John,

I appreciate the response to my review. Thanks for letting me know you posted it so I could see your thoughts.

First, I want to comment on your position of having whittled all beliefs structures down to atheist agnosticism. In the response it appears that you think my Christian belief is some kind of unthoughtful, irresponsible clinging to a background presupposition. However, my position of Christian theist ethical non-naturalist is due to the same reasoning as your position. I have looked at as much as I have been able to so far—including the problem of evil—but still end up with my current belief. I want that point to be clear. Could I possibly be wrong? Sure, but so could you. I keep these possibilities in mind as I study and I believe you do also.

Second, whereas the problem of evil for you (I think) is a clincher in refuting the existence of God, it is not so for me. I view the problem of evil as a one part of an expansive number of arguments for and against the existence of God. One of my problems for dismissing God is the problem of the origin of intuitive morality. Just like you pointed out that if I were to apply the “rules” to my own child I would sing a different tune, I think the same thing goes for ultimate morality in this world. If I were to murder you or a beloved just for kicks, I think you would find it hard pressed to dismiss it as merely the way things are (of course, if it were you, you wouldn’t be saying anything, but I think you get the point). You would intuitively understand this to in some way be a wrong action; and not just as defined by government, but as inherently wrong. However, in a universe devoid of a transcendent standard of good, rape, murder, and suffering are still ultimately brute facts; no meaning, no ethics involved. Just like you find God hard to accept due to the existence of evil, I find God hard to deny due to the existence of moral law.

In denying the existence of God, the problem of evil is still with us, so now what? Is it better explained? We humans would be the root of all problems and we do not appear to be getting better (or seem to know how to). And the natural disasters, well that’s just the way it is. There is no meaning, no lessons, and no “good” to come of anything, because there is no real “good” outside of human constructs. The universe is devoid of good. And it appears not to matter how much education, money, or help people get, there is still so much meaningless pain and suffering.

Some people I converse with seem to think humans will get or are getting morally better (I would disagree). But then, how long should we wait? Past our own deaths? And who is to judge me or you according to their view of right and wrong...a mere human? Who is able?

Third, let me correct another issue. I do not merely punt to a God that I cannot explain. The logical argument is that if there is a Creator being, the created and the Creator cannot be equivalent. One made the other; therefore the other is not the same as the one who made it. The mind of a Creator would not be the same as the created. The mind of the Creator would necessarily be greater than the mind of created. For an example, my mind cannot create a universe or the origin of life. Is there some logical argument against why this would not be the case? If this is the case, there would exist at least some things about the Creator of which I could not have all encompassing knowledge. If I could have exact knowledge of the Creator being, than it would seem to be the case that I was equivalent with the Creator in at least the area of the mind. This kind of being would be no more worthy of worship than any of its creations sharing equivalent attributes (if that were possible).

John, that's all I have time for this evening.

Thank you. I hope you are doing well.

MJ

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for commenting Mary Jo. I realize that your level of understanding about these issues has grown in the last two years compared to when you wrote your response to our debate. But I did say I would respond. Sorry it took so long.

Mary Jo said…One of my problems for dismissing God is the problem of the origin of intuitive morality. Just like you find God hard to accept due to the existence of evil, I find God hard to deny due to the existence of moral law.

Placing these two problems on the table at the same time and I win hands down. There is no difficulty here with regard to a moral law whereas there is a great deal of difficulty with regard to a perfectly good God. I want you to picture a perfectly good God with no shadow of impropriety at all…none…sort of like someone who might blush if she farted when it comes to morality. Someone like that cannot be associated with anything less than perfectly good actions. No amount of omniscience can change the perfect goodness of this person. Such a person would never even think of using evil actions to produce good results. She would never get soiled in the first place. She would be purity just like light admits of no shadow. Such a person would not even be able to look upon the carnage that takes place every minute on the planet. It would hurt her to no end just to watch, or it would change her as she did. No amount of omniscient talk will overcome the omnibenevolence you claim such a God has.

When it comes to the moral law itself, I find theists to use an emotional argument not backed up by the moral evidence found in the Bible or the history of the church. And I certainly don’t see how morality is understood any better by positing God, since there are difficulties understanding how God could be called “good” if he created the moral law, and if he doesn’t create it the unresolved question is who did? It does no good at all to say God’s nature is good for we still need an explanation of what goodness is in order to call him good. I explain this at length in my book and look forward to your review of it. And I also have a whole chapter on what it's like to live life without God. If you woke up and decided God doesn't exist would you actually kill your children and husband and then yourself? Or would you pretty much be the same person and go on living life doing the best you can? That was the dilemma I faced, and I remained the same person doing the best I can because there is no other alternative.

I’ll grant you, as you say, that “The mind of the Creator would necessarily be greater than the mind of created.” But your God created this world to have free willed creatures who love him freely. Isn’t THAT the whole reason he did so? Well then, things aren’t going so well, are they? Surely when someone makes or creates something it should work, right? I mean, if I were to make a house to live in, then it should be livable, right? To the degree that house does not live up to my aims is the degree which I have failed as a builder. If God created a universe to have free will people who love him, then he should not have created such a world where billions of people simply cannot grasp his unfathomable ways. Since he did not do this, we don’t believe in this Christian God. Anyone in any religion can say that their God’s ways are past finding out, too, so such an explanation falls on deaf ears. Really, how would it sound to you if a Muslim said the same thing to you?

BTW: I’ll probably be presenting a paper on the Outsider Test for Faith at the Regional meeting of the EPS in March. I’m pretty excited. I’ll be the first atheist invited to speak at one of their meetings.

Cheers. I wish you and Roger well too.

Steven Carr said...

MJ's argument is that if there is evil, there must be a god.

So why does she not believe that her god is evil?

Would an evil god let children scream as they burn to death in a blazing house?

Philip R Kreyche said...

I think a good question to ask MJ is this:

"Without a God as a source, would moral law be any less valuable or meaningful?"

That is, the concept of morality exists, whether a Creator exists or not, and whether than Creator is the source of it or not. Is the concept of morality, on its own, valuable to human life, or is it meaningless unless it has an Eternal Source?

Also, a basic question in response to her post:

"If there is an Eternal Source of intrinsic morality, why would that Source allow everyone's intrinsic morals to be different, and just happen to be influenced by the person's host culture?"

Greg Mills said...

At what point do we have to say that "god" is arbitrary?

For God to be omnipotent, wouldn't have God had to have set the boundaries of what is evil and what is good? In fact, wouldn't have God had to invent "evil"? God must be able to select the ways of conduct to allow and to forbid. And so the divine, which by definition exists outside our morality, must set the standards of what is good and what is evil, which for the divine's purposes can be arbitrary.

To set system we operate in, then set our natures to fail in that system is simply cruel by the self-same standards set by God.

Evan said...

This rings false to me:

The mind of the Creator would necessarily be greater than the mind of created.

Many people created Deep Blue.

None of those people could beat Deep Blue at chess.

If this is so, how is the proposition true?

Brother D said...

The atheist position is grand. It's like arguing we don't need Navy SEALS because they suffer too much through training. Why put them through all that suffering? Anyone who has done ANYTHING noteworthy in this world has had to go through times of hardship. Eternity is a LONG LONG time. How long does man live, 70,80 years? What's that? Let's assume a man suffers 80 years then lives eternity in paradise. Who is short sighted, atheists or God? God luck composing an intelligent response without personal attacks..cheers :-)

Greg Mills said...

Brother D -- Why'd God create suffering? Or is that our fault?

Like I said above, this God person seems like an arbitrary chappie. Why not, in creating reality, merely make us all "saved"? Is God not capable of this?

Why did god create evil? Or did we create evil? God could have made us golden unicorns of dignity and light. But instead he creates us in such a way that we anger him. He gives us a blip of time to sort out his secret rules before we can join him in eternity, which one would presume is our true condition, since we'd spend eternity there?

Again, why not just leave us to Eden or at his right hand? Why'd he stack the deck against the creation he loves? How does this make sense? Why did he gives only 80 years to muddle through his demands and then give us an eternal penalty for not meeting them?

It doesn't make sense to me. Nevermind that I have yet to meet a Xtian who can tell what god is.

Philip R Kreyche said...

Brother D,

And if atheists are right, then you'll have spent the only 80 years you will ever have obsessing over a fiction.

Atheists aren't short-sighted, they're just not willing to give up their entire lives to anything they can't be certain is true. They respect their own lives too much to believe anything "just in case."

Player Piano said...

Brother D,

Your analogy is flawed, and I can turn the tables, too: imagine that all of us do go through the traumas of this live and the suffering that is a part of it as a preparation for a life beyond this, an afterlife (as you say we do): obviously the people going to hell wouldn't benefit at all from this preparation, would they? Eternity, as you said, is an awful "LONG, LONG" time, and 70 or 80 years, as you also said, is a very short time in comparison. Why needlessly punish someone for eternity for just 70 or 80 years of transgressions? It is very much arbitrary; this so-called plan.

Why not link suffering to some kind of spiritual enlightenment and then let everyone suffer until they are ready to go to a "heaven" and eliminate the idea of a "hell" altogether? "Hell" serves no real purpose except to scare people--oh wait....

Now, are you going to give me an intelligent and attack-free response, too? I certainly hope you do, because essentially you just called bluff on us (the posters in this thread) and I raised (my response).

SirMoogie said...

Greg Millis,

I'd only add to your point we get 80 years if we're lucky. Some of us, if we're fortunate enough to survive the capricious whims of God's natural processes that result in miscarriage, are treated to several genetic maladies due to God's imperfect reproduction scheme. Perhaps Harlequin-type ichthyosis is the type of "training" Brother D has in mind?

SirMoogie said...

I sometimes forget that some people don't have the stomach for these things. The Wikipedia page for Harlequin-type ichthyosis contains an artist rendering of the disorder. This is rather tame compared to actual photographs of the disorder. Search and view at your own risk.

Greg Mills said...

SirMoogie --

The amazing thing is, thanks to materialistic science, there are cases of Harlequin-type ichthyosis suffers surviving into adulthood and thriving.

Science: cleaning up the messes made by Providence.

And you're right, the image of a Harlequin-type ichthyosis suffer can be startling. Proceed with caution.

C. Tygesen said...

Hasn't John Lennox shown the weakness of this claim with his 'marriage/celibacy' analogy, i.e. "Bill may be married, but Bill's celibate with respect to every other woman except his wife; Steve is celibate simply by going one woman further than Bill by not marrying at all."

I try not to indulge in stereotypes, but why are Christian apologists so bad at analogical reasoning?

In order for Steve's celibacy to be equivalent to atheism, women demonstrably have to exist. More than one woman.

So Lennox's logical position is that there's a multitude of actually-existent gods out there and the Judeo-Christian God just happens to be the "right one", and Steve errs by wanting none of that?

Really?

Furthermore, Bill is in a relationship with a person whose existence can be independently verified. And so---unless it's also Lennox's logical position that Bill is in a monogamous relationship with a woman he's never physically encountered and knows only through translations of documents written from approximately the sixth century BCE to the second century CE and thorough a body of cultural and institutional traditions, and though he's never had physical sex with her, he "feels her presence" and hopes to be with her after he dies---Lennox should be able to produce objective, observable evidence of this "wife", and hence the intersubjective justification for his celibacy-minus-one, n'est-ce pas?

Comparing marriage to atheism is, well, stupid.

C. Tygesen said...

It's like arguing we don't need Navy SEALS because they suffer too much through training. Why put them through all that suffering?

No, the atheist position isn't like that, any more than the Christian position is that "since Navy SEALS obviously had to suffer to become elite, therefore US foreign policy aims are automatically good."

Steven Carr said...

I wonder why Christians make so much of Jesus suffering for us on the cross.

After all, ' Anyone who has done ANYTHING noteworthy in this world has had to go through times of hardship.'

Why should atheists care about how much Jesus suffered for us, when some Christians claim suffering is momentary and trivial compard to eternity?


BROTHER D
Eternity is a LONG LONG time. How long does man live, 70,80 years? What's that? Let's assume a man suffers 80 years then lives eternity in paradise. Who is short sighted, atheists or God?

CARR
SO it seems that God doesn't have to do anything about a lifetime of suffering , as that is nothing compared to eternity?

But if you commit a single second of sin, that will damn you for all eternity.

Why is God so far-sighted that he can see the insignificance of a lifetime of suffering compared to eternity?

And then judge you as being worthy of an eternity in Hell, because of a moment's sin?

What is a moment's sin compared to eternity?

If a ten second theft of a purse angers God so much that it can land you in Hell for all eternity, then why is God not equally angered by children who have a lifetime of suffering because of birth defects?

ismellarat said...

If dealing "briefly" with the problem of an atheistic ethic takes seven parts, how many parts long would a detailed treatment be? ;-)

Seriously, what you write fascinates me, even where I often see things differently. You directly address the strongest points your opponents make, instead of just preaching to your own choir, and I have no idea why a skeptic would take issue with this approach, as you say some do.

I hope to someday see those 1500 or so older threads come back to life in a more accessible format. You can stumble onto them through searches, but it'd be great if they were categorized by something other than month and year. A simple, one (long)-page list of titles would already go a long way to providing such an overview.

John W. Loftus said...

Ismellart said...Seriously, what you write fascinates me, even where I often see things differently. You directly address the strongest points your opponents make, instead of just preaching to your own choir, and I have no idea why a skeptic would take issue with this approach, as you say some do.

Well, you could ask Carr above for one. ;-)

Thanks, this is my goal to be fair with people and to understand their strongest arguments and deal swiftly with them.

A book length treatment of an atheistic ethic would be required.

As for some of my key posts go, you can find some of them in my companion book.

Cheers.

Eric said...

Here's the context of Lennox's 'marriage/celibacy' comment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo96pRA8oNI&feature=related

(go to 1:00 in)

John: "What Lennox is discussing is not atheism per se, but metaphysical naturalism as a set of beliefs."

In the clip above, it's clear that he's talking about atheism, not metaphysical naturalism. While one could of course rework Lennox's analogy in the way you suggest, I don't see how that gets us anywhere with respect to the point Lennox is making. He's addressing the people who say, "Sure, you believe in the Christian god, but you're an atheist when it comes to Zeus and Baal and all the other gods; I, an atheist, (minimally) lack belief in one more god than you do," and they're talking about atheism.

His point is simply this: A Christian cannot coherently be described as an atheist with respect to the gods he doesn't believe exist because a Christian does believe in a god, and belief in god is precisely what an atheist lacks. Now, this point may seem trivial, but I don't think it is for at least two reasons.

First, it presupposes without argument a parity of sorts between the Christian god and any other possible god. Such a parity may indeed obtain, but it needs to be established through argument, not assumed in a neat rhetorical trick.

Second, it seems to me to be a deceptive way to attempt to persuade another person. Imagine this: The only meat you eat is chicken, and your PETA friend is trying to persuade you to become a vegetarian. During the discussion, he says, "John, you're already a vegetarian when it comes to beef and pork chops and the like; I simply go one meat further than you do!" Now, wouldn't you say, "You can't meaningfully describe someone who eats chicken as a vegetarian; therefore, I'm not a vegetarian with respect to beef -- I'm an omnivore who eats chicken but not beef." Clearly, the vegetarian is playing with words to make it seem as if his friend is closer to his position than he in fact is.

Jason Long, I think it's obvious that you completely missed the context of the analogy. There are, by definition, disanalogies to be found in every analogy; the trick is to find only the relevant disanalogies, and this is determined by the point the analogy is being used to make. Given that, it's clear that 'choice' has nothing whatsoever to do with Lennox's analogy.

C. Tygesen, the problem isn't with Lennox's ability to reason analogically, but with your misunderstanding of the analogy. Just as it has nothing to do with choice, it has nothing to do with whether any god or gods actually exist.

Confident Christianity said...

John,

But your God created this world to have free willed creatures who love him freely. Isn’t THAT the whole reason he did so?

I don't think I agree with this premise. If you describe this argument in detail in your book, I'll wait to respond until I read it. I don't fall under that description of why God created. I think creativity is an attribute of God.

There is no difficulty here with regard to a moral law whereas there is a great deal of difficulty with regard to a perfectly good God.

How do you determine what is a perfectly good God without a transcendent mind? I have to use the Biblical texts and natural revelation to even shoot at this speculation. So I am wondering how we, as humans, determine what we would expect from this non-human entity with regards to "what is good" if we are just looking around at the world from within our own plausibility structures? I hear what you are saying, that I know certain things are wrong and evil. But why? Why do I know this? I am in search of the origin of our intuition. (For Philip R Kreyche - the intuition and basic premises have remained in spite of cultural influences and changes. What is the origin?)

Plus, John, the focus here is on God's omniscience and omnibenevolence. Christian orthodoxy states that God is all his attributes at all times (such as perfectly just, perfectly merciful, perfect love, etc.). Therefore, we cannot simply separate out one or two in an attempt to understand something about his nature. If the totality of God's nature is not addressed with regards to the problem of evil, it is not the Christian God that is being addressed. This, to me, is especially important if a person is going to deny the existence of the Christian God primarily on the problem of evil. Again, perhaps in the book you do confront this issue in light of the totality of the Christian orthodox view.

You also made the comment that no amount of talk about omniscience can overcome the omnibenevolence of God. How do you know this?

Thanks for the dialogue,
MJ

Steven Carr said...

ERIC
During the discussion, he says, "John, you're already a vegetarian when it comes to beef and pork chops and the like; I simply go one meat further than you do!" Now, wouldn't you say, "You can't meaningfully describe someone who eats chicken as a vegetarian; therefore, I'm not a vegetarian with respect to beef -- I'm an omnivore who eats chicken but not beef."

CARR
I see.

An 'omnivore' is not someone who eats all kinds of foods. In this Christian analogy, an omnivore is someone who eats some kinds of foods but not others :-)

Of course, the person is a vegetarian with respect to beef.


Of course Christians are atheists with respect to Thor and Zeus.

Despite Lennox claiming that he is not an atheist when it comes to the existence of Aphrodite.

I really don't see the point of Lennoz trying to deny that he lacks any belief in the existence of Thor.

Confident Christianity said...

Evan,

First, it does not follow that since Deep Blue is better at chess (processing one kind of information) than humans that Deep Blue is superior in all aspects of the mind or that Deep Blue even qualifies as having a mind. So the comparison does not quite work.

Second, if you are approaching this as an argument against a Creator, the analogy is problematic, because you are arguing in favor of a Creator. People created Deep Blue. So Deep Blue was created by a being(s).

Third, the proposition is that the Creator is not equivalent to (or the same as) the created. So now there are two options I can think of at the moment: the Creator’s mind is greater than the created or the Creator’s mind is lesser than the created. If the Creator’s mind is lesser than the mind it created, how did it create the mind greater than itself in all ways? Remember, I have to consider all aspects of the mind, not just one area of the mind. To me, this does not make sense. I am left with the option that the Creator’s mind is greater than the created’s mind.

Thanks,
MJ

Eric said...

"Despite Lennox claiming that he is not an atheist when it comes to the existence of Aphrodite.
I really don't see the point of Lennox trying to deny that he lacks any belief in the existence of Thor."

Steve, he doesn't deny that he lacks belief in Zeus; he denies that this makes him an atheist when it comes to Zeus. As he says, it makes him an 'a-Zeusist,' but not an atheist. As I said, calling a Christian an atheist when it comes to Zeus is a rhetorical trick. Just look at how the sentence would translate given the acceptation of the basic terms:

'A person who believes in the triune god (a Christian) is a person who lacks belief in all gods (an atheist) when it comes to the god Zeus.'

See? Adding 'when it comes to Zeus' doesn't resolve the contradiction in 'a person who believes in the triune god is a person who lacks belief in all gods.'

A person who believes in the triune god is a person who believes in the triune god and doesn't believe in Zeus. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but that's beside the point.)

John W. Loftus said...

Mary Jo, thanks for the interaction. The rest of my case can be found in my book and I look forward to your review of it.

---------
I just got an email from someone named Sarah who is finishing up a M.Div degree at Denver Seminary and just read my book. She wrote:

Your book along with Richard Carriers work on defending metaphysical naturalism has profoundly influenced my life.

While I am not convinced yet that Christianity does not make the most sense of reality, I am in serious doubt. If I cannot resolve my current objections to Christianity, I could easily become an Atheist, as this is the only other resort. Your book, along with others has contributed to my desire to study more philosophy, biblical studies, and devote my life to pursuing truth.

My professors from seminary, Craig Blomberg and Doug Groothuis, whom I know you have been in contact with, are reading and discussing your book wih me as well.

kiwi said...

"If I cannot resolve my current objections to Christianity, I could easily become an Atheist, as this is the only other resort."

Oh dear. What do they learn at the Denver Seminary?

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, I'm sure you haven't read my book yet, for if you had you'd see that while I provide arguments against Christian theism it's the methodology that I use to do so that can easily be used against other religions, including liberalism. That's why she said it's the "only other resort." Whether it is or not that's what she concludes. Why don't you become informed before commenting further?

Jeff Carter said...

John,
A few points regarding the issue of suffering and your book.

First, in reference to your statement in your 12th chapter that God could make a person repulsed by evil, I have reviewed "A Clockwork Orange" on my website, which explores the issue you raise.

Second, regarding your contention that good does all it can do to alleviate evil. You quote Mackie on this, but he was taking his cue from Hume. The problem seems to be that the definition of good for all three of you is good = no pain or suffering. This is not a universally accepted definition of good, merely a hedonistic one. I have blogged about these in "Hume's Definition of the Problem" and "What Is Good?", which you will find at the bottom of my website.

Finally, you will see that I have spent some time revamping my side and it will facilitate a better discussion on your book. Soon I hope to construct an entire category dedicated to review of your book.

Regards,

John W. Loftus said...

Jeff, your site does look better! Congrats to you on that.

You say...The problem seems to be that the definition of good for all three of you is good = no pain or suffering.

Nope. I don't see where I use this informal fallacy at all. I am speaking strictly about massive intensive suffering. If you read this post of mine you can see I'm merely asking why people suffer so much. I concede it's quite probable that with flesh and blood bodies there would have to be some pain in it. I'm questioning why there is so much of it given a flesh and blood existence. Please, no straw men.

kiwi said...

John, you have said yourself that your book doesn't cover all bases and the focus is mainly on evangelical Christianity.

I don't need to read your book to know that it doesn't refute all possible non-atheistic worldviews. Do you have a bullet-proof argument against deism in your book, for example?

But this is not even relevant, as it isn't about your book. The person claims the only other resort to Christianity is atheism. I refuse to believe a person finishing a M.Div degree would say something so black and white, unless the education offered at the Denver Seminary is seriously lacking.

This is all too characteristic of fundamentalists to think that the only reasonable alternative to their version of Christianity is atheism; it's the typical all-or-nothing attitude of fundies.

Jim Turner said...

Eric said "Steve, he doesn't deny that he lacks belief in Zeus; he denies that this makes him an atheist when it comes to Zeus. As he says, it makes him an 'a-Zeusist,' but not an atheist. As I said, calling a Christian an atheist when it comes to Zeus is a rhetorical trick."

It seems like the whole issue can be greatly clarified by just slightly adjusting some terms.

For instance, Loftus said "She herself is an atheist when it comes to Islam." Instead, try "She herself is a skeptic, critic, and unbeliever when it comes to Islam."

Doesn't the following sound much better?

"A Christian is a skeptic, critic, and unbeliever when it comes to Allah, the Mormon God, the Watchtower God, Zeus, and all others. An atheist is just a skeptic, critic and unbeliever in one more god."

How's that sound?

- Jim T.

Evan said...

MJ -- sorry but I fail to see how your clarification works.

First, minds are not mathematical symbols. An autistic artist has a mind that may have a markedly greater capacity for musical memory and expression than someone who is not autistic. When it comes to music, that mind is greater, and if music is what you value, than you will pick that mind.

When it comes to chess, Deep Blue is the best mind on earth. To say Deep Blue is not a mind is to say that nobody uses their mind when playing chess. Deep Blue cannot hold a conversation, but then again -- neither can God.

So again, the idea that one mind is greater than the other implies a simplistic and plainly false understanding of what a mind is.

In addition -- a problem for the theist is that all minds extant are embodied. We have zero evidence for a disembodied mind. Even Christianity focuses on the embodied mind of the Christ part of the triune deity-thingie to the near exclusion of the other two portions, since they are almost by definition inscrutable, as you hint at in your last post.

Your mind may be good at figuring out Biblical texts, but not so good at calculus. My mind may be good at imitating voices, but not so good at making a pizza.

To glibly state that one mind is greater than another just seems prima facie nonsensical.

Peace,

Evan

Philip R Kreyche said...

For Philip R Kreyche - the intuition and basic premises have remained in spite of cultural influences and changes. What is the origin?

... what intuition and basic premises? You mean things like theft, murder, sexual taboos? I'm sorry, but are absolutely no universal agreements among human beings, regarding morality.

For example, stealing: communes share all property. There's no concept of personal possessions, so theft is not recognized.

Murder: in many parts of the Arab world, notably Pakistan, young girls are frequently beaten and stomped to death by their family for consorting with men from other tribes. The family members do not consider it murder, while most other cultures probably would.

Sex: in the Trobriand Islands, it has been common practice for young teenagers to pair off and have sexual relations before any sort of "marriage." Many other cultures would consider this to be taboo.

Mary Jo, can you point out one single universal moral conviction that has been shared by all cultures, and that could have no rational natural explanation?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric and Jim Turner, we're just talking about the definition of terms, nomenclature. When using a term one must try to understand what the person using it means by it. I've told you what I mean by "atheist." There is nothing inconsistent with how I use it. You may call the same phenomenon whatever you want to. When you do I must try to understand what you mean. That's the nature of language.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, I'm sure you haven't read my book yet, for if you had you'd see that while I provide arguments against Christian theism it's the methodology that I use to do so that can easily be used against other religions, including liberalism. That's why she said it's the "only other resort." Whether it is or not that's what she concludes. Why don't you become informed before commenting further?

kiwi said...

Why do you parrot the same thing, instead of addressing what I've said?

Does your book refute deism for example, yes or no? The answer to the question is very simple. It's only one word.

The world doesn't revolve around your book. What I'm saying is that it's silly to think atheism is the only alternative to her version of Christianity. This observation has absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to do with your book.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, yes, I think it does. At the very least, it offers reasons not to care even if there is a deist God.

But you continue to comment without understanding what you're talking about.

Steven Carr said...

MARY
And who is to judge me or you according to their view of right and wrong...a mere human? Who is able?

CARR
I think this means that Mary considers herself above American law, as she does not think her fellow human beings in America are able to judge whether it is right or wrong for her to take crack cocaine.

I'm sure she doesn't take crack cocaine, but if she did, she would find her confident assertions about the inability of me to judge her to be somewhat reality-challenged.

How can somebody write that human beings are not able to judge each other?

I find such statments just plain weird.

How can anybody become a Christian if it means saying in public that they do think 'a mere human' can judge each other according to their view of right and wrong?

Did her God create the speeding laws that she obeys?

Did her God create the taxes that she pays?

Humans created all those laws that Mary Jo obeys because she knows she will be judged as a criminal if she disobeys them.

And human beings created all the laws in the Bible....

None of them were created by her alleged god - not even the one which says rapists must be forced to marry the woman they raped.

Jeff Carter said...

I'm merely asking why people suffer so much.

John,so much in relation to what? How do we know where we are on the spectrum of suffering?

ismellarat said...

Thanks, SirMoogie, for bringing that up.

Wiki mentions a few rare cases - where more than one child has this affliction in the family.

I wonder what the hell their parents were thinking, after having already seen with one child that their genetics made it likely that they'd have another with the same problem.

In one case, they really won the lottery with their second child: she also has cerebral palsy.

Here's an article on the oldest UK survivor, who had FOUR OTHER SIBLINGS pass away from this condition as children. (There's also a US triathlete (!) who's around 28.)

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-health-news/2008/05/09/nelly-is-a-real-diamond-girl-65233-20886612/

Obviously everyone wishes her the best. I shudder to think what would have happened, had she been born in Bangladesh.

"Suffering may sometimes be necessary, but why doesn't it have limits" is a pretty hard-hitting, seldomly-asked question I wish my liberal/deistic worldview didn't have to explain.

"God has an eternity to make up for it" only works if there's no permanent Hell.

Would any orthodox Christian here like to tell me what they would like to see happen to these people if it turns out they're not Christians?

Your silence speaks volumes.

John W. Loftus said...

Jeff, are you suggesting that unless I can specify where the sufferings of this world fit on the spectrum of what is possible then the actual sufferings of this world can be ignored until I do so? I suppose they would lie somewhere between the Christian conceptions of heaven and hell, okay? Mid point. Finite but still terrible. Yet not so bad, compared to infinity. And not so good compared to heaven.

Does that do anything for you? I can't see why. For this world does not reflect the perfect goodness of the God you worship. That's the point and I make it easily.

Nonetheless, I can know that a fine of $1 is not a big enough one for some infraction without being made to specific what the exact fine should be. And I can conceive of a much better world, easily.

Eric said...

"I can best be described as an agnostic atheist. I think there isn’t a God *of any kind*, but I’m not sure of that...I've told you what I mean by "atheist." There is nothing inconsistent with how I use it."

John, there is clearly an inconsistency in asserting that a Christian is an atheist with respect to Zeus, even given your conception of atheism. Look what happens when we rewrite the proposition I've been criticizing to take your definition into account:

(1) A person who believes in the triune god doesn't think there's a god of any kind when it comes to Zeus, Wotan, et al, but he's not sure.

This move does nothing to remove the contradiction: a person who believes in the triune god cannot meaningfully be described as a person who doesn't think that there is any kind of god, even if he's not certain.

Again, this may seem trivial, and I of course know what you're trying to say, but as I argued before, it assumes too much, and thus is a bit deceptive. I like Jim Turner's formulation much better:

"A Christian is a skeptic, critic, and unbeliever when it comes to Allah, the Mormon God, the Watchtower God, Zeus, and all others. An atheist is just a skeptic, critic and unbeliever in one more god."

This formulation does not suppose that the Christian is 'already' an atheist of sorts ('you're an atheist when it comes to Zeus'), or that he's 'almost' an atheist ('you're an atheist when it comes to Zeus et al; you only have to go one god more'), and so on. Also, it has the further advantage of openly advocating what must be called epistemic virtues (when understood properly), e.g. skepticism and critical thinking. Also, in this regard, it frames the issue properly, and without any deceit: Are Christians being as properly skeptical, critical, etc. towards their beliefs as they are towards, say, belief in Zeus?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, did you read through my last link?

I think I'm using the word as it has been used historically. It's an odd word, a negative word. But since we're stuck with it I'm going to use it the way it was meant to be used. You cannot fault me for that. Simply understand how I use it. Don't demand that I should conform to how you think it should be used or how others use it.

Cheers.

Seek4Truth said...

Kiwi,

During my seminary studies, I have studied every possible worldview one could hold and concluded that either Christianity is true or Atheism or Agnosticism is true. I do not see anything wrong with thoughtfully considering all the options and drawing some conclusions with sound reasoning. I would be curious to hear more about your worldview and why you believe what you do.

Sarah

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for commenting Sarah. I liked how you put it:

During my seminary studies, I have studied every possible worldview one could hold and concluded that either Christianity is true or Atheism or Agnosticism is true.

kiwi is sort of a troll, I think. If he wants to tell us what he actually believes I'm all ears. But usually he's a waste of my time.

Player Piano said...

I would describe myself as an agnostic atheist, but I wouldn't say that "atheism is true"; such a statement is not really meaningful to me, but I would say instead that none of the religions seem to be "true" in the way in which they claim to be true, based on the lack of supernatural evidence and all the evidence that shows the human origin of existing religions and the direct contradictions between many religious beliefs and the reality which we inhabit.

I would not say that "atheism is true" but rather that the claims that atheism does not make are true, in that they are not false, because they are non-existent, because atheism is not making any supernatural claims. Is that understandable?

ismellarat said...

I think you guys would save yourselves a lot of that tedious, high-falutin' argumentation if you'd simply challenge the purported inerrantists with stuff like, "how would you kill a baby for Jesus?"

Jesus is the god of the Old Testament, they must admit, and he commanded such things be done. Or else the Bible isn't completely true.

Get rid of the "arguers" and you get rid of the arguments. :)

They don't really believe what they say, and they know it.

Confident Christianity said...

Evan:

// To say Deep Blue is not a mind is to say that nobody uses their mind when playing chess.//

How is this true? The conclusion does not necessarily follow. You are equivocating a computer programmed by humans to “think” (actually programmed to process; because it is programmed to “think” only in so far as a created, programmed computer “thinks”) with a human mind. These are not the same, but that is how your above statement comes across.

I still have a problem with the analogy because people, IBM, created Deep Blue. There is still a creator in your example.

//Deep Blue cannot hold a conversation, but then again -- neither can God.//

This is not in accordance with the Christian orthodox view of God. I do not argue for or against any version of God outside of Christian orthodoxy.

// So again, the idea that one mind is greater than the other implies a simplistic and plainly false understanding of what a mind is.//

You have not proven this. Deep Blue does not function holistically as an average human mind functions, correct? I am not referring to the exceptions that you have introduced to the argument; i.e. a human with autism. Using Deep Blue as a comprehensive analogy for the creation of all human minds is not a good or comprehensive argument. The analogy leaves out so many aspects of the human mind; including irrationality, emotion, artistry, chemical imbalance, etc.

// .. a problem for the theist is that all minds extant are embodied. We have zero evidence for a disembodied mind.//

1) How did you come to an understanding that all minds in existence are embodied?
I am making the assumption that “embodied” here means “resultant of matter” and not as personified, made flesh, or alive.
2) Is the “embodied mind” the same as the brain?
3) What would you consider as evidence of a disembodied mind?
(Although, I do not agree with your choice of terms; you make it sound as though some people think there are minds wandering around like ghosts somewhere. Through similar wording, I could make numbers, emotions, values, human rights, and laws of logic sound incredible, as well, due to their conspicuous lack of matter. However, all of these seem to exist in reality without embodiment, per se, in matter. I would prefer something along the lines of arguing against or for substance dualism.)

I have not stated anywhere that God’s mind is disembodied in the sense that it lacks personification, is not alive, or cannot co-exist with human flesh (as in the case with Jesus). I made the argument that if there was a Creator, that Creator’s mind could not be the same as its creation’s mind(s). If it cannot be the same, because one has been made by the other, then we have some options to look at: a mind greater than or lesser than the creation’s. However, if there is a reasonable argument for an equivalence of minds between Creator and created, I am open to hearing that argument.

I believe you are in some way arguing for strict physicalism while I am not specifically touching on that at the moment.

Philip:

//no universal agreements among human beings, regarding morality//

Relativistic human agreements sway with culture, time, and place. Basic concepts of morality; such as the fact that there is anything at all that is considered right or wrong—no matter how right and wrong are relativistically defined—is the origins problem.

// Mary Jo, can you point out one single universal moral conviction that has been shared by all cultures, and that could have no rational natural explanation?//

Let me rephrase the end of the question and then, yes, I believe so. The universal convictions could have a rational natural explanation*, but that does not mean the explanation is 1) evidenced or 2) the best explanation.

1) The universal sense of “oughtness.” I find no people in all of history (that I have so far studied) void of “oughtness.”

2) I think the problem with understanding a universal moral conviction is the need to understand that the various relativistic definitions of the basic conviction, ie. murder, is not equal to the ultimate premise of murder. Is there really a society somewhere in history that absolutely and completely had no conception of a person’s life taken “wrongfully”? The society may have various definitions of what was and was not “wrongful,” but did any of them—that we can evidence—fully lack this conviction. Please find me one so I may consider why I am wrong on this point. The ancient cultures I have looked at so far—including Babylonian, Canaanite, Assyrian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Mayan, Oriental, Eskimo/Aleutian, many Native American tribes—all have punishment for wrongful death; implying the concept was known.

What is the natural explanation for the origin of the concepts of “oughtness” and “murder” as evidenced in natural history?

(*I have left off “rational” due to its metaphysical property that does not seem to fit with the “natural” part of your original inquiry. I apologize if I come across as snide in doing so; this was not intended.)

Thank you for your time.

MJ

Evan said...

MJ,

Thanks for the courteous reply. I'll try to explicate where I see things that we differ on more completely.

You say:

How is this true? The conclusion does not necessarily follow. You are equivocating (sic -- I assume you mean equating) a computer programmed by humans to “think” (actually programmed to process; because it is programmed to “think” only in so far as a created, programmed computer “thinks”) with a human mind. These are not the same, but that is how your above statement comes across.

Imagine Topalov or Anand (the top 2 players in chess currently) are playing one another. They will move pieces but will be unable to fully articulate the heuristic that they use to determine what moves they are making. Anand and Topalov may know nothing of neuroscience, nothing of the modules of sensory perception, information analysis and nothing of serial or parallel processing in their brains, but those are the techniques they are utilizing to make their choices. They need not know any more about the workings of their brains than Deep Blue does about its circuits to play chess well.

Likewise, Deep Blue analyzes moves using an algorithm that Deep Blue is unable to fully articulate, nor could any of the authors of the program fully articulate it.

Both are minds in the sense that they execute a function involving foresight, planning, and strategy as well as tactics. To say that Deep Blue is not a human is of course true, but Anand is hardly any more "human" when concentrating on chess. Certainly Anand's human abilities are a burden on him when playing chess and not an asset.

One reason Deep Blue may be so successful at playing chess is precisely because Deep Blue will never have a rumbling in the gut that distracts it from playing.

I still have a problem with the analogy because people, IBM, created Deep Blue. There is still a creator in your example.

No. There are multiple creators, no single one capable of fully understanding the entire system, and some of the creation was also done by computer programs separate from Deep Blue. There is no one person who created Deep Blue, and all the people who created it would be defeated by it at chess.

Therefore, the created mind is superior (for the purpose which it was created for) to the creator minds.

This, IMO, falsifies your initial statement and leaves little wiggle room.

Therefore, even the deist may imagine there is a god who started it all out but is relatively simple and may be free to postulate that human intelligence is, for the purposes which it is used, superior to that of the deist god. This again falsifies the initial statement that the mind of the creator must be greater than that of the created.

On a mundane level, many of us have seen students and children who surpass the intellectual capacities of their teachers and parents. While these minds are not created ex nihilo, they certainly are developed under the tutelage of these individuals and again, if your assessment were prima facie true, this should be impossible.

You then say:

The analogy leaves out so many aspects of the human mind; including irrationality, emotion, artistry, chemical imbalance, etc.

Yes, and for the purposes of chess, these are weaknesses. There is nothing inherent in the concept of a god, and certainly plenty of evidence from the Bible to support the idea that deities can be capricious, emotional and imbalanced as well. To prove that God is perfect is simply impossible (it is accepted by theists as an axiom), but give me your best shot if you think you can do it.

To answer your questions:

1) How did you come to an understanding that all minds in existence are embodied?
I am making the assumption that “embodied” here means “resultant of matter” and not as personified, made flesh, or alive.


In the same way that I come to an understanding that all vertebrates have a notochord. There are no members of the group that lack this characteristic.

If you have evidence of a disembodied mind that has foresight, plans, executes strategy and tactics, I'm interested in seeing it.

2) Is the “embodied mind” the same as the brain?

For human beings, of course. However computer technology has advanced to the point where certain programs embodied in circuits can do many of the functions we associate with minds and I would not exclude this possibility.

3) What would you consider as evidence of a disembodied mind?

I can't conceive of any, but let me know what your evidence is and I'll examine it.

Although, I do not agree with your choice of terms; you make it sound as though some people think there are minds wandering around like ghosts somewhere.

What exactly is your conception of a soul if it isn't that?

Finally you say:

I made the argument that if there was a Creator, that Creator’s mind could not be the same as its creation’s mind(s). If it cannot be the same, because one has been made by the other, then we have some options to look at: a mind greater than or lesser than the creation’s.

To say that two minds are not identical is again non-controversial, but to say that any mind is superior to any other mind without being clear about what arena you are discussing or what measurement you are using is simply to toss off an axiom that you are offering without proof.

Cheers,

Evan

Philip R Kreyche said...

MJ,

If it's just the concept of morality that is the "problem," then how does the Christian god solve this? You are claiming that God went to the trouble of giving everyone a sense of "ought," but made sure to make it so that no one agreed?

Is this not a problem, itself?

And are you implying that the fact that a rational natural explanation could still not be the best evidenced implies that the Christian god is a better answer?

J. K. Jones said...

John Loftus,

You made a couple of arguments I’d like to discuss, if you are still responding to this older post.


“…I certainly don’t see how morality is understood any better by positing God, since there are difficulties understanding how God could be called “good” if he created the moral law, and if he doesn’t create it the unresolved question is who did? It does no good at all to say God’s nature is good for we still need an explanation of what goodness is in order to call him good…”

God’s nature defines “good.” He created the moral law as it is because it is based on His unchanging, good desires. It’s not that He could not create a different morality; it’s that He doesn’t want to. He would never want the fundamental moral principles to be different that what they are.

We know what “good” is because God put that knowledge in our hearts. “Good” has been defined by God in accordance with His nature / desires. Why must the definition of “good” be external to God in order for us to be able to recognize “good” when we see it?

You have spent considerable time on this tread and others defining exactly what you mean by “atheist.” You have re-defined the word. You have a right to do that (especially when we consider that you are defining your own belief system here).

When conversing with you, I now know what “atheist” means when you say it. I can recognize you as an “atheist” because of your own definition of the term. I do not need a definition external to the one you supplied to understand your word. You have defined “atheist” in just the way you desired to. You have defined “atheist,” but I can recognize it without having a definition of “atheist” outside of the one you provided.

God can supply the definition of “good” to us. He can also make us so we can recognize “good” without relying on some definition outside Himself. We get our understanding of “good” from God, so we recognize God as “good.” God has defined His own term, and we can use it to describe him.



“…If God created a universe to have free will people who love him, then he should not have created such a world where billions of people simply cannot grasp his unfathomable ways. Since he did not do this, we don’t believe in this Christian God…”

God’s existence is obvious to an unbiased person. The problem is that none of us is unbiased.

As a sinner, before God opened my eyes, I was oblivious to God’s existence because I suppressed my knowledge of His Existence. If a holy God existed, I would have had to confront, at a primordial level, my own unholy condition. I would have to see all of the evil nature of my heart and all of the goodness of God’s. That’s enough trauma to trigger a repression of the truth in any mind.

Could there be some bias in your outlook?

There is certianly bias in mine.

John W. Loftus said...

Yes there is definitely bias in my outlook, a predisposition against supernatual explanations and beings, and I spent over half of my book defending mine before examining the evidence in the Bible itself in the later half.

momofour said...

Evan, I have one question. Can Deep Blue create a program to defeat itself at chess?

I can't contend that your position that the mind of the created can indeed be greater than the mind of the creator.

Deep Blue is the best at one task. It is not a sentient being, as are the humans who created it. Therefore the minds of the creators of Deep Blue are still greater than the 'mind' of the created. It is incapable of independant thought--at least on any subject other than chess moves. Wouldn't that make it capable of deductive reasoning rather than true 'thought'?

Ok, that's two questions.

Jeff said...

Science and logic can not dogmatically rule out that which it can not observe or measure. To be blatently opposed to "Supernatural" explanations is to take the position of those who swore man would never fly, until they saw someone do it. It follows the logic of those who would say what we could see was the smallest..whoops..what we could see magnified was the smallest...whoops... what we could oberve at the atomic level was the smallest...whoops... etc... quark...etc...

Predisposition in scientific and logical observation is always, Always, ALWAYS! a bad thing. What we know we know, what we suppose we suppose, and we should never confuse the two.