Friday, March 11, 2011
Can a Good God exist? An Atheist and a Christian Debate the Problem of Evil (3)
(click here for Charger's previous post)
(click here to see the beginning of this discussion)
So the debate continues.
As I start this piece I want to say that I did not address every single thing in the Charger’s previous response and I will not be pushing forward on certain arguments that I had been previously making which I believe are less important ones. I am doing this because the responses are getting very long and I know the Charger has a lot of work to deal with as do I. Still with that said if there is anything that I do not address from the previous piece that the Charger wants me to address or anyone who happens to be reading this wants me to address just ask in the comments section and I will tell you what I think.
I) Logical Problem of Evil
Now unlike the Charger I do not believe the logical problem of evil belongs in the dustbin of history unless it is accompanied by a fair amount of Christian theology. Still I do agree with him when he said we can spend the majority of our time on the evidential problem of evil. But before I do that I want to address one of his responses to one of my sections concerning the logical problem of evil.
The issue I want to address is the question of why did God create the world. As I said before any theist who believes God will always act to eliminate any evil that does not prevent some greater good must explain why God created anything at all because if God is the greatest possible good then the fact is that if he had not created anything there would be nothing but the greatest possible good and thus he should not have created us at all.
The Charger attempts to address this issue by saying: "The atheist has to assume that one can say that it is better not to create at all—which is impossible, because one would have to prove that X (no creation at all) would have more value than Y (creation). But it would seem meaningless to suggest that X can have any value since it is nothing (and since nothingness has no properties, it cannot have any property of value). Thus it cannot be “more valuable” than Y. But even if it could have value, how can one say that it would have more value without actually being able to experience it? Of course, one cannot experience nothingness, so it cannot be “more valuable.”" This attempted answer fails because the fact is that the Charger leaves out the most important part of the comparison, which is God himself. The Charger makes X represent no creation (nothing) while Y represents creation (something) but that is an error. The fact is that X represents no creation (no evil) plus God while Y represents creation (some evil) plus God. So one is not comparing nothingness to something rather one is comparing something (only God, who is perfect goodness) to something else (God and creation, which means some evil). So it is clear that the greater good is God and no creation and thus what God should have done to maintain the greatest possible good is not create.
Now concerning Stephen Law’s reverse theodicies there is nothing the Charger says that Law’s essay cannot itself address so one can simply read his essay (link) for those ideas.
But let’s move on to the evidential problem of evil.
II) Evidential Problem of Evil
So the Charger begins this section labeled “How much evil is too much” by immediately avoiding the question and pointing it back at me. He says, “The Worrywart is making a value statement—that there is too much evil and that this “too much” evil is evidence against God. When anyone claims that there is too much of anything, it’s fair to ask “how much is too little” or “what amount makes up a perfect equilibrium?” So the Charger is seeking for me to designate some sort of standard before he will answer the question. He then uses examples such as the amount of deaths in the Holocaust or the price of a hamburger to try and show the absurdity of saying there is “too much” of something without some sort of standard.
Now while I found this a very clever way of dodging the issue it was inaccurate and again missed the point. First, it was inaccurate because I never said there was “too much” evil rather what I said was that the Charger must, “explain how all the seemingly obvious pointless and gratuitous suffering in the world is compatible with their conception of God as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good” So one can see that what I said about the suffering in the world is a lot of it is seemingly gratuitous. I never made a claim that there was too much evil but rather that much of it seems pointless. Second, he seemed to miss the point because while a lot of the power of the evidential argument does lie in the great amount of evil that exists the actual point is not about the quantity of evil but rather about the value or usefulness of the evil that exists. The theist must demonstrate that there is absolutely NO pointless or gratuitous suffering. It doesn’t matter how much or how little evil actually exists in the world, even though it is clearly a lot, what matters for the theist is being able to properly account for all of the evil/suffering that does exist in the world. For if there is even one pointless act of evil, one needless experience of pain or one senseless occurrence of suffering in the world then their all-good God has failed to be all-good and thus goes up in smoke. So the standard that the Charger is looking for can be simply put as “too much evil” = “any pointless or gratuitous suffering”
Again to be clear the actual quantity of evil does not matter. Even if in the entire history of humanity only two people committed evil acts or a only few people experienced pain if either of those acts of evil or any of those experiences of pain did not serve a greater good or prevent a greater evil then the theist fails because their God can no longer be called all-good. With that said the quantity of evil in the world is significant because it provides the power to the evidential argument in that it again seems fairly obvious that there is pointless suffering and pain in this world. As the amount of evil and suffering increases so too does the likelihood that some of that evil and suffering is gratuitous and the theist’s job becomes more difficult for the theist has the massive job of accounting for the entirety of it. It is in fact the theist’s job to explain why 6 million Jews had to die in the Holocaust instead of 5,999,999 because based on their belief if only 5,999,999 had died a greater good would have been prevented or a greater evil would have occurred. So the theist must tell us what was that greater good that came from 6 million Jewish deaths as opposed to 4 million? Going back to one of the pervious examples I’ve used the theist must explain what greater good was accomplished by each rape committed by Robert Burdick, a 40 year old man accused of 12 rapes and convicted of multiple ones. Why did there have to be 12 rapes instead of 6 rapes or 20 rapes or God forbid none? What greater good was served by exact amount of 12 rapes? Of course the theist cannot actually answer these questions and thus has to find ways to avoid the issue or say “I don’t know” which is what the Charger does next.
The Charger moves on to the subsection labeled “CORNEA” in which his main point is that humanity lacks the perspective necessary to make such broad statements as there is “too much” evil in the world. He says, “if you’re not in a good position to judge the veracity of a statement, you shouldn’t make one. For example, if you’re blind, you shouldn’t try to explain what a flower looks like. The same is true for humans who have only existed for a very short time and who cannot possibly make normative statements about the history of good and evil. The above principle is known as the “nonseeum assumption.” Professor Nick Trakakis simplifies this by claiming: “If, for instance, I am looking through the window of my twentieth-floor office to the garden below and I fail to see any caterpillars on the flowers, that would hardly entitle me to infer that there are in fact no caterpillars there…the person making the inference does not have what it takes to discern the sorts of things in question.” Unfortunately while there is certainly truth to the fact that our lives are quite limited the fact is that those limitations exist for both sides of this argument. Just as he tells me I can’t infer that there are no caterpillars in the garden merely because I can’t see them neither can he infer that there are caterpillars in the garden despite the fact that we can’t see them. If we are too limited to make judgments upon the quantity and usefulness of evil then likewise we are too limited to make judgments concerning the existence of some ultimate good behind those evils. Both sides are making inferences based on our limitations so pointing that out doesn’t harm the naturalist’s point of view in the slightest. Human beings are limited but that should not stop us from making inferences based on the best information that we have available at the time. The fact is that the while the person on the 20th floor doesn’t know if there are caterpillars in the garden the fact that she does not see them or any other evidence for them (butterflies) provides her a far better reason for her inference then the person who says there are caterpillars there just because she wants them to be there. This section was just a fancy way of saying “I don’t know but you should still believe me.”
So we see that the entirety of the Charger’s piece on the evidential problem of evil again never actually addresses the problem from the theist’s perspective. Instead he merely avoids the issue and then finds a clever way of saying “I don’t know.”
The fact is that the theist has no answer to the evidential problem of evil rather all they have is an answer to the logical problem of evil that they believe works and then a call for faith. Basically if there is any way that it is logically possible, no matter how twisted, that an all-good God could have produced a greater good or prevented a greater evil by “allowing” some great atrocity to happen then the theist believes that that is exactly what has happened. The theist has no good reason to believe what she believes at this point rather what she has is faith and a desire for it to be true. As a former Christian I know the difficulty of trying to explain how God could be all-good while allowing (commanding) so many heinous crimes and I know that what it ultimately comes down to is some philosophical gymnastics to make it seem plausible and faith, though in reality the faith comes first and one then just tries to find anyway possible to justify what one already believes, reason has nothing to do with it.
In this section there are three issues to be addressed; free will, Jesus’ death and animal suffering/natural evil. I will deal with them in the same order that the Charger did though I will juggle around the subsections in the free will section. As I said at the beginning I will not deal with every single issue brought up in these sections in order to reduce the length of this piece and so as to better focus on the more important parts of the discussion.
1) Free Will Defense
The free will defense is the defense the Charger spends the most time on and really it is the defense that his entire argument is dependent on so of course I will spend the most time dealing with it. He spoke at great length concerning it both at the beginning of his response (section on Logical Problem of evil) and then again in the middle (section on Theodicies) so I will try to address what he said concerning it in both parts of his piece.
In my previous piece I pointed out that God himself does not have logical free will (the ability to sin) thus to say it is of ultimate value is obviously wrong since it is a quality God himself does not have. It then seems clear that God could have made a world were humans had sufficient freedom (just has he has) and yet never sinned. The Charger had multiple responses to this. It should be noted that all of these responses were in the section on the logical problem of evil so the Charger was only trying to, “provide a logically possible (non-contradictory) account of how God and evil can exist to avoid the logical problem of evil.” But I will address them here to show these are arguments designed to protect a preexisting belief (God is good) rather than reasonable assertions that should make one change their mind. Even if one accepts the Charger’s claim that it is logical possible for God and suffering to co-exist it is not hard to see that the world did not have to exist the way it does since God could in fact have done things differently and so being truly good I would argue that clearly he should have done them differently.
The Charger’s first response was to try and draw a distinction between created and uncreated beings and say that it is logically consistent to say that an uncreated being is wholly free yet does only what is good while it is logically impossible for this uncreated being (God) to create contingent beings that are also wholly free yet also always do what is good. I looked at this argument for quite awhile and admit I just don’t see any logically contradiction in God as an uncreated being also being able to create contingent beings wholly free who always do what is good just as he does. The Charger himself says, “It should be noted here that there is nothing logically contradictory in saying that all people could always be doing good freely—since they could always choose to do so of their own free will.” But he then quickly adds, “it is logically contradictory to say that God, being external of them, could cause all of their actions to be good and that the people would remain free.” The fact is that there was nothing in my original idea that said that after God created these beings he would “cause” all of their actions to be good rather it was the opposite they would freely chose, with the same freedom as God, to always do what was right. So while I kind of appreciate the clearness of the argument it really just boils down to an attempt to deal with the logical problem of evil without explaining why a God who could have logically made a world with contingent beings who always did what is right did not in fact create that world.
The Charger’s second response relies on demonstrating that God as a necessary being cannot create other necessary beings. Thus God being omnipotent cannot create another being that is omnipotent; basically God cannot create another God. Now this idea is fine but then the Charger attempts to make the trait of a perfect free will (a free will that chooses to do only what is right) a trait that only a necessary being can have and not a contingent being. This again has the same problem as the previous argument in that this trait that the Charger labels a “perfect free will” cannot be shown to be a trait of only a necessary being particularly once one takes into account theistic views of immortality and heaven, where it is believed people will not sin (whether by choice or not is up for debate) and assuming that it is by choice it is clear that they have not somehow become necessary beings yet their freedom is not impeded and they chose only what is right.
The Charger’s third and final response to this issue describes God’s “morality” as a virtue rather then a duty. Relying on William Lane Craig the Charger states, “God’s goodness is a virtue rather than a moral duty. Instead of claiming that God is all-good, in the sense that He has a duty of always being good (stated another way that He commands Himself to do good), one could say that God does good because it is His virtue to do so. Which would mean that God’s goodness no longer commands Him to act in a certain way—rather it is His virtue that causes Him to act. For it would be impossible for an omnipotent being to command itself to act.” To me this seems to just lead to Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma; is something good because God does is or does God do it because it is good? Basically saying God’s virtue causes him to act good is like saying what God does is good by definition because God is the one who does it. This leads to all sorts of problems in that God’s virtue becomes fairly meaningless in that only the actor (God) matters not the actions themselves. In short God can do whatever he wants and it is good simply because it is being done by him.
Another issue created by each of these responses is that they make a necessary connection between freedom and evil, meaning one (freedom) must always lead to the other (evil). And if there is in fact no world were a person can freely chose to do what is right all the time then by definition everyone is determined to sin at some point and thus true libertarian free will really does not exist despite the Charger’s claim that that is exactly why we have the world that we have. So either way the Charger fails.
So moving on I will look at different issues the Charger raised concerning free will in his Theodicies section.
So I previous posed the question about whether free will existed in heaven or not? Either way the theist faces a problem. If yes then clearly God could have made a world with no evil in it while maintaining free will if not then obviously free will is not valuable enough to keep and thus cannot justify the way the earth currently exists with all its evil. The Charger tries to deal with this by proposing, “that our desires in heaven will be “overwhelmed” by our desire to be perfect like God due to our own proximity to God—we will no longer have any desire to sin of ourselves. This would effectively mean that we’re free but that we will not sin because our sinful desire is no longer predominant.” This argument obviously fails because all God had to do was “overwhelm” us here on earth rather then wait until heaven. The Charger tries to argue against this saying that, “If God had “overwhelmed” us on earth, we would have no choice in the matter. It would be a lot like a man raping any woman he “loved.” There would be no significant difference between God “overwhelming” us and physical, emotional and spiritual rape. Of course, God cannot rape us and be all-good—thus He didn’t force himself on us.” I have to admit this made absolutely no sense to me and the Charger would need to explain what he means. How is God allowing us in his presence on earth equal to rape while God allowing us into his presence in heaven not rape?
A further problem for any Christian theist who tries to use this argument is that they must explain why Adam and Eve and also Satan chose to sin against God since they all were in God’s unfiltered presence. Adam and Eve were with God in the garden and it didn’t stop them from eating the fruit. And Satan according to later tradition (post-biblical) was one of God’s archangels yet decided to rebel and fight against God. Clearly God’s presence is not enough to keep people from leaving it. Then on the flip side one can note that God exposed himself to people like Moses and Paul here on earth to cause them to follow him, so was that equal to rape? If not why can he not do the same for all of us?
So clearly heaven still remains a problem for the free will argument.
The issue of hell is closely connected to the issue of heaven as far as the problems it creates for theists. The theist must not only explain whether there is free will in heaven but must also explain if there is free will in hell? If there is then it seems clear that after some period of time, no matter how long or short, everyone will eventually decide to leave hell and go to heaven but this contradicts the traditional Christian doctrine of hell. If free will does not exist in hell then again one must question what ultimate value it ever held? If in the end God was going to end up removing your free will and forcing you to exist somewhere why, if he is all-good, would he simply not “force” you to be with him in heaven rather then force you against your will to be in hell?
The Charger later argues that without our free will we would not even exist so if he believes there is no free will in hell he would then have to explain how people can even exist in hell.
So while I was talking about free will I gave multiple examples of things God could have done differently, which would have reduced the amount of evil in the world without having any affect whatsoever on our free will. These examples included God creating people with the same skin color, the same language and the same amount of strength (men and women). He could have also removed our need for food and sex. And he could have simply taught humans more about the world around them. The Charger never actually deals with the point of the examples, which is that God could have done things differently to reduce suffering rather he dismisses these ideas without providing any real reasons as to why he dismisses them. Instead he merely states why things are the way they are never explaining why his God who could have done things differently didn’t do them differently. Concerning food and sex he said, “most humans find great pleasure in sex and food—so these two examples probably should be withdrawn.” Why should they be withdrawn? The fact that people enjoy those things is not a reason to withdraw them. People would probably also enjoy not starving to death. God could have allowed us to eat food without us needing it to live. Sex is fun but does that fun out weigh the pain and suffering that would be avoided if we didn’t have sexual impulses? And I would have to ask does the Charger think people will be having sex in heaven or need food to survive there? Christian tradition say no so why have them here? Concerning skin color he says, “there are good survival reasons for our differing skin colors. Darker-skinned people are better adapted to more sun exposure and lighter-skinned people are more adapted to higher climates. And I don’t think that we can blame God for racism.” So here he merely explains why people have different skin colors. Yes I know why people have evolved to have different skin colors but if the Charger’s God is who he says he is then we didn’t have to have those skin colors so why have them? So even if one believes God is not directly accountable for racism the simple fact is that God could have prevented it just by making us all the same color. Concerning the strength of the genders he says, “I think the strength issue is a side issue—more related to childbearing and socially assigned roles.” Why is it a side issue? Of course we know why men and women actually are the way they due to our biological roles and evolution. But again that doesn’t explain why the Charger’s God didn’t make things different because if that God is real then clearly things didn’t have to be this way. Finally concerning different languages the Charger says, “I think different languages provide incredible beauty. And, as a poet, I’ve discovered the “untranslatable” beauty of words can be an ocean of beauty.” Different languages can be beautiful, I agree but so what? How many poems is a person’s life worth? If one wants to keep all the languages God could have still allowed the development of every language and just enabled us to understand every language. So why not do that? And going back to heaven, does that Charger believe there will be different languages in heaven? Really the better question is does he believe that people will be able understand one another in heaven or will there still be communication problems? If he thinks people will be able to understand one another in heaven then again why not have it that way on earth?
Telling us why things are the way they are or pointing out some of the benefits of things being the way they are does not change the fact that things did not have to be this way if the Charger’s God was real because far greater evils could have been prevented without having any affect whatsoever on humanity’s free will.
The Charger then addressed my claim that God could have and should have taught humanity more about the world. In this specific instance I mentioned God teaching people about viruses and bacteria so that people could understand how and why they got sick and thus reduce the amount sickness they experienced. The Charger first turns to Swinburne saying, “that God created a world where responsibility was a big deal—where every action meant something.” I see absolutely no connection between this idea and mine. It is far easier to be responsible when one is taught about the world around them and knows what one should do or should not do. The teacher must teach otherwise don’t be surprised when the student fails. It seems that God holds humanity to a higher level of responsibility then he himself is willing to bear.
To deal with the specific example of diseases the Charger turns to various dietary laws in the Pentateuch. It should be noted that there are few parts of scriptures that Christians enjoy cherry-picking from as much as Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If it serves their purpose then the verses still apply if they don’t then they explain them away using Christ’s life and death as a fulfillment of the law. But every single section of scripture the Charger cited here are sections that Christians have never followed and were in fact instructed not to follow. Paul himself taught throughout Romans (1-3) and Galatians that followers of Jesus are not supposed to keep the law except insofar as “loving your neighbor as yourself.” All of the precepts and requirements such as circumcision, dietary laws, observing the Sabbath, etc were not necessary for salvation and in fact anyone who thought or acted otherwise was in danger of losing their salvation. So at least for the Christian theist these verses are worthless as examples of God trying to teach people about diseases and bacteria and such. Beyond that the simple fact is God never explains the purpose or significance of any of these rules so you can not call any of that actual teaching. And finally these ideas were only provided to a tiny group of people 2,500 to 3,000 years ago ignoring the great majority of humanity throughout history. So clearly this God cannot be called a teacher of humanity on any level.
The Charger also tries to get his God off the hook by merely saying that even if God had told people what to do there is no guarantee that they would do it. That is of course true but what can be guaranteed is that if you don’t tell people what to do, not do and most importantly why then they will certainly not know those things. Pointing to the story of the flood the Charger goes so far so to say, “Most people also didn’t listen when God warned them before the flood. If they didn’t listen to Him than, why would they listen to Him now?” So basically it seems that the Charger feels the sins of one generation should forever be held over all others. That seems to make his whole free will argument fairly worthless because apparently God has already decided it was not worth teaching us since some people didn’t listen to him before. That one idea right there is enough for me to dismiss the rationality of the belief in an all-good God (in this case it would be more accurate to say all-Christian God).
Really few things expose the Christian God’s inability or unwillingness to communicate and teach as clearly as the bible. The fact is humanity (homo sapiens) have existed for 180,000 to 200,000 years but this God remained silent until about 3,000 years ago when he started to give some limited (and mostly inaccurate) information to a few individuals, which were meant to be restricted to a very small group of people. Slowly the various messages (often contradictory) spread as more and more writings got “inspired.” Still over-all God’s form of communication (scripture) was segregated to a very small portion of the world. It seems fairly clear that God simply had no desire to teach anyone in China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia, the Pacific Islands, a majority of Africa, North America or South America. This God still has not gotten his bible to everyone on this planet. Honestly how seriously can anyone take this God’s claim to care about everyone? Beyond this terribly long wait for God to speak one also finds that God is fairly inept when it comes to actually making what he means clear. Wars are constantly waged over the meaning of his words. Numerous books with conflicting messages are written that claim to be inspired by him. Religions split, various sects are formed and numerous denominations are created over God’s obvious lack of clarity. So now this God has left us 3 branches of Judaism, 2 sects in Islam and around 38,000 denominations in Christianity. Truly could anything be clearer then the fact that this God is amazingly unclear about what he wants and what we should know. It really is astonishing that those who believe in the bible thinks it serves as a positive witness to God’s desire to communicate with humanity when it is so painfully obvious that it exposes the exact opposite about their God.
I point out that God as the one who gave humanity it’s free will bears part of the responsibility for what humanity has done with its free will especially knowing what we would do with it. The Charger believes this confuses the issue. He says, “Man didn’t have to abuse free will—he did so of his own free will. Thus, God cannot be blamed for it.” First this statement seems to contradict an earlier point of the Charger’s. If one goes back to the Charger’s (Plantagia’s) argument about it being impossible for God to create humans with free will who would not at some point sin then clearly humanity did, in a sense, have to abuse his free will. But moving on I used the example of parents bearing a level of responsibility for their children. The Charger did not accept this comparison though I’m not fully sure why. He says, “this example fails because it assumes that we have no cognitive ability to decide what is wrong or right.” That is simply wrong. The example does not assume that we have no cognitive ability to decide it merely assumes that God also has some, just as a parent does. The parent does not bear the full responsibility for the decisions their children make but they do bear some. The theist wants God to bear absolutely no responsibility for his children even though this is not a free pass they would offer to any human parent.
While thinking of the example of parents this would be a good place to point out that free will and the ability to enact one’s choices are not necessarily connected. God could allow humanity to have free will allowing us to make any choice we want but keep us from being able to actualize our evil choices. Just like when a parent tells their child not to play in the street, the child can disobey the parent but if the parent sees the child going towards the street they will go and stop the child. The child’s freedom to choose was not impeded merely the evil act itself was impeded and as they grow up they learn not to run out into the street so that the parent no longer needs to impede the child’s action. God could do the same thing with us especially with evil actions that would cause great harm to others and ourselves. If God did this obviously suffering would be greatly reduced because murders, thefts, rapes, etc would not actually happen. And just like any parent, God could still punish us for making a wrong choice even if the action itself was never realized. A person making the wrong choice would remain responsible but no one else would suffer as a result. In fact the God of the bible does this kind of thing (prevent obvious consequences or create impossible results of human actions) all the time with various miracles so for anyone who accepts scripture this idea cannot merely be philosophically explained away.
The Value of Free Will
This section is important because so much of the free will argument relies on the Charger’s claim that free will is so valuable that it warrants all the pain, suffering and evil that exists in the world. Now I argued that many if not most people in history would be quite fine sacrificing what little free will they actually had to be rid of all of their suffering and pain. The Charger disagrees but in an odd way. First he says, “I think this statement is rather meaningless because, in essence, he is saying that he would no longer be an atheist (he would electronically do what God wanted him to do). By extension, we also wouldn’t be debating this or any issue.” I guess I have to return the favor and say his statement seems fairly meaningless. Of course I wouldn’t be an atheist if the world were the way that an all-good and all-powerful God could make it that’s the point, but the world isn’t that way because no all-good God exists to make it that way. And it’s important to understand that not having free will as the Charger defines it would not make me or anyone else some sort of electronic robot. So really I don’t understand the Charger’s point here.
He goes on to say that without free will people would forfeit their feelings going so far as to say that we would actually no longer exist. Again I am confused as this makes absolutely no sense. He says, “I think most people think a deterministic world is one where they are paralyzed and that God merely controls their motor actions—this is not the way it would be because you would have no consciousness (since you stopped being anything). In our western culture, our actions make us who we are. Thus, it would seem that we should value our free will as much as we value ourselves.” One thing I will quickly note is that I’m glad the Charger said our “western culture” since clearly the tradition in the east is far different and this entire debate we are having is fairly meaningless there, which serves as a pretty big strike against the Charger’s God in the first place. Now a deterministic world (one without evil and suffering) would not be a world where people are paralyzed or where God would control their motor actions. Certain “freedoms” would be lost (assuming you believe we have those freedoms in the first place) but that would not make one a robot controlled by God. You could still make plenty of free choices, which God would have no affect on (go where you want, eat what you want, sleep when you want, be with who you want, talk to who you want, play when you want, etc) there simply would be no evil acts to make.
I also have to greatly disagree with the Charger’s assertion that our actions make us who we are. Far more then are actions make us who we are. Our culture, environment and upbringing have as much to do with who we are and what we believe as anything else. And modern science is finding out more and more about how a great part of who we are and what we do is connected to our genes. So clearly our actions don’t make us who we are in fact one could say that our actions are merely a product of who we are not the other way around. And again a world created by an all-good God with no evil would not be a world where people were unable to act on there own so the Charger’s complaints seem hollow.
And I have to once again return to the idea of heaven since the Charger has failed to properly address that. Clearly the Christian theist believes there will be a time when there is some sort of perfect existence free of pain and suffering so where is the Charger’s type of free will then? If our free will changes or is revoked does one merely cease to exist in heaven? Or better yet how about hell? Do you have free will in hell? Can you leave? If not then by the Charger’s logic one would merely cease to exist and thus hell does not exist, which conflicts with traditional Christian doctrine.
Basically this is a topic the Charger and I simply disagree on. I just don’t believe free will as defined by the Charger is valuable enough to warrant this world we live in whereas he does. Further the Charger never addressed the fact that we really don’t have very much free will to begin with and some people have far more then others. So how does that play into the whole system? What choices are offered to the girl born in China or the slave living in the Persian Empire or one of Solomon’s 700 concubines compared to a person born in a modern democratic society? The fact is that the Charger has far more free will (freedom to do and think as he pleases) then most of the people who have ever lived in history. And I would say the beliefs he has “chosen” are merely a product of that fact.
Ultimately the free will argument remains faulty as it can only address certain issues relating to the problem of evil and even with those issues it’s problematic. The Charger has failed to explain why God couldn’t maintain humanity’s free will while also creating a better world with less or no suffering. Neither has he proven that free will is truly valuable enough to justify the world we live in. There has been no reconciliation between the concepts of heaven and hell with the Charger’s version of free will. Nor does free will explain why God bears no responsibility for state of the world as it is currently constructed.
Really the free will argument remains valuable only for certain moral issues and for trying to address the logical problem of evil. Despite the Charger’s claims to the opposite the free will argument is of very little value when it comes to dealing with the evidential problem of evil, which again is where the theist must demonstrate that each and every single act of pain and suffering that has occurred serves some greater purpose and cannot be labeled as gratuitous. And of course the free will argument remains worthless when dealing with animal suffering and natural evil as I will soon expand on.
II) Jesus' Death
The Charger then moves back to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which still has nothing to do with the problem of evil so I’m going to simply ignore this section. The whole point of this discussion was for the theist to prove that it is rational to believe an all-powerful and all-good God exists despite all the evil and suffering in the world. So one cannot talk about the death of Jesus or the theory of atonement before one has even proved that God exists. The atonement is a completely different subject, which serves no purpose here.
III) Animal Suffering and Natural Evil
In two separate sections the Charger again attempts to address animal suffering and natural evils and once again he offers nothing that can actually deal with those real problems. The Charger tries to show how free will solves the problem of animal suffering and natural evil. He again turns to Swinburne who tries to connect these two things (animal suffering and natural evils) to human responsibility. The Charger states, “if we can do whatever we want without any ramifications, we’ve lost all responsibility. We would be like rich kids who never knew that our world really mattered and that the decisions about our lives mattered.” This seems fine yet really has nothing to do with natural evils or animal suffering. There is no logical or necessary connection between human beings making wrong moral choices and animals suffering or the occurrence of natural evils (most). The Charger seems to imply that if animals didn’t suffer and the earth wasn’t filled with natural evils like hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes then humanity would be getting off scot free with our poor moral choices but that simply is not the case. Telling a lie or stealing a car has natural consequences that come with it but explain how a tornado is one of them? Or how a deer burning to death in a forest fire is one of them? Honestly has anyone felt morally responsible watching a lion eat an antelope? When a shark kills a seal does it make you think you have done something wrong? If the Charger says yes and wants to connect animal suffering to human responsibility then all theists who accept his argument must be vegetarians and God should want us to be vegetarian as well. Those relying on scripture would now have to explain why God never commands people to be vegetarians if in fact animals were never intended to be eaten. Going back to the Garden of Eden story there is absolutely no reason for Adam and Eve’s sin to suddenly change numerous animal species into carnivores. God could have just kept them all herbivores and could have kept them from feeling any pain since they did nothing wrong. Nor should Adam and Eve’s sin suddenly create natural evils like earthquakes or floods.
Beyond there being no connection between human responsibility and animal suffering or natural evil the fact is that everything the Charger is selling here relies on the reader to accept the historicity of the myth of the Garden of Eden. The earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old (not 6,000 years like Genesis says) while modern humans (homo sapiens) are around 180,000 years old. Earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, and all of forms of natural evils were happening long before human beings ever existed. Likewise animals were hurting and killing one another before we ever came along so the story of the Garden provides the theist (Christian theist) nothing for answering these questions.
Before moving on I will just note that in this section the Charger said, “The Worrywart says that this book and reality are contradictory—and he attempts to prove that it is false by claiming that certain parts of the book (i.e. God and thus Christianity) are false. But one must take the whole book into account before it can be defeated. I don’t need to prove that creation happened, that the Garden of Eden was real or that Satan is real; my opponent must assume that it is true in order to argue that Christianity is contradictory.” I have to admit that once again I have no idea what the Charger means here. I do not have to accept all of Christianity as true to argue against it. That makes no sense whatsoever. The fact is that not even all theists accept Christianity as true or accept the Garden of Eden story as valid or the majority of scripture for that matter. So the atheist is not alone there. If the Garden of Eden story did not literally happen then yes the Charger’s attempt to somehow connect animal suffering and natural evil to human actions fails. And honestly if you take the Garden of Eden story literally then you’ve pretty much already defeated yourself in trying to demonstrate that your beliefs are rational. We know how old the earth is; we know what kind of natural events occurred on the earth throughout it’s history and the affect they have had on making our planet the way it is; we know when animals first evolved on this planet and how they fed off one another; we know that large groups of animals have gone extinct over the life of the planet some due to massive global catastrophes; and we know that all of these things happened before human beings ever existed. Sorry the Garden of Eden story is worthless when it comes to explaining animal suffering or natural evils.
The Problem of Good and Evil for Naturalists
To end his response the Charger once again tries to turn the Problem of Evil back upon the atheist/naturalist. I will address his points but again this is a waste of time and misses the whole point of the argument.
First the Charger claims that I must explain how there can be such as thing as suffering in the naturalistic worldview. He says, “I cannot see how a naturalist can explain suffering. For suffering to exist, there must be something better—but there is no hope or good in naturalism, thus the naturalist must explain where the idea for the existence of suffering comes from.” Again this is simply wrong. Suffering is merely a fact. It is not something that can be denied. If I poke you in the eye it hurts or if I shoot you in the leg you feel pain end of story. Suffering equals pain so less pain is obviously better then more pain. As I said before he merely confuses the existence of natural evil (pain/suffering…not earthquakes/floods/hurricanes) with ethical evils (what is morally wrong). Instead of natural evil I should have said evil as a natural phenomenon because that clearly confused the issue. The Charger says, “If one must assume that God exists for suffering to exist, then how can one deny God’s existence?” Well the fact is that one doesn’t have to assume that God exists for suffering to exist. This is so painfully obvious that I really don’t understand why it is being talked about. Again he just seems to confuse the issue of “how can atheists define morality without God” with “the problem of evil,” they are NOT the same issue.
In his second objection the Charger claims that other arguments, which provide positive evidence for God’s existence can be used to outweigh the evidence against God’s existence created by the Problem of Evil. The Charger then seems to think that this means I must be able to explain the role of evil in the world. Again this seems clearly false. In fact it seems to concede the fact that the theist has no answer to the Problem of Evil. The Charger says, “one can say that if X probably does not exist based on evidence Y, then one could say that evidence U, T, and Z outweighs Y.” He is correct but what this example is admitting is that the evidence Y is accurate. If Y is meant to stand for the problem of evil then what the theist is saying is that yes by itself the problem of evil seems to show there is no God so they must bring in other evidence to try and out weight the problem of evil. But bringing in other evidence (other arguments) to outweigh the problem of evil does nothing to solve the problem of evil. So really this argument helps prove my point concerning the topic of the problem of evil, which is that the theist has no answer to it.
In his third response he says, “it’s illogical to say that evil only applies to one side of the issue. If evil applies to both sides equally, one cannot tout it as evidence against only one side of the issue. As Dr. Terry L. Miethe argues: “The atheist is constantly raising the problem of evil but never gives a solution. It is high time the theist called: ‘Foul!’ I defy the atheist to give an answer to the problem of evil.” Again the answer is simple wrong. Evil (suffering/pain) is not a problem for atheist/naturalist the way it is for theists who champion a belief in an all-good and all-powerful God. Pain is a fact of the world and the naturalist accepts that and moves forward trying to deal with the fact and make the world better. It is the theists based on their worldview that have to be able to explain how the suffering came into existence in the first place and why an all-good God seems to do nothing about it. The Charger just seems to keep missing the obvious point of the Problem of Evil, it is a problem if and only if there is an all-good and all-powerful God. So it seems the red herring remains, which is unfortunate because I’m just not a big fan of fish.
So taken in whole the Charger’s piece once again offers very little in dealing with the evidential problem of evil rather he just seems to continue to propose a limited free will defense whose greatest power is found in addressing the logical problem of evil and even then it does not do so without fault. Beyond this he spends a great deal of time trying to demonstrate that the problem of evil is a larger problem for atheists/naturalists and therefore theists (he) need not answer it until the atheists (I) do. Clearly I disagree with the Charger’s belief that the problem of evil as here constructed presents a problem for atheists/naturalists but even if one believes he is right one should not ignore the fact that he has still failed to offer any viable answers for the problem from the point of view of the theists.
I think the problem of evil may seem like something the theist can deal with as long as the problem is kept theoretical but once actual examples and real life events are examined it becomes abundantly clear that the theist has no rational answers to offer for the problem of evil. The Charger can discuss philosophical ideas that allow for God and evil to co-exist but until the Charger offers a rational explanation for why Wes Leonard, a 16 year old boy from Michigan collapsed 30 seconds after hitting a game winning shot to cap a perfect season for his high school basketball team and died hours later due to an enlarged heart (link) then one cannot say that he has provided a rational response to the problem of evil. Or until the Charger explains to me exactly why his God allowed/wanted hundreds (the confirmed number is still climbing) of people to die and thousands to suffer from injury and the destruction of their homes in Japan due to a horrible tsunami created by an earthquake (link) then he can’t pretend to have offered any answer to the problem of evil. Truly, all the theist can provide in instances like this is a call for faith, which proves nothing rather it simply allows one to maintain whatever preexisting belief one had about their version of God.
As I said before being a former Christian I know the difficulty of trying to explain how God could be all-good and all-powerful while allowing (commanding) so many heinous crimes and I spent a great deal of my time both personally and academically searching for some answers to the problem of evil that actually worked. And I found many answers, like free-will, that successfully assuaged my doubts for a time but eventually I could not deny that they all fell short in the face of the continued pain and suffering experienced by so many in this world. The only “answer” that actually worked was faith, which really just means ignoring the problem. But I grew tired of making excuses for God and trying to conjure up new tricks for explaining how/why God let something horrible happen (usually to others not myself) when it was so painfully obvious that it didn’t have to happen the way it did.
Now I can’t deny that the atheist/naturalist cannot offer people what the theist can offer, which is the promise of rewards (heaven) and the threat of punishment (hell). Theists will always have the advantage of being able to play upon a person’s selfish side in a way that an atheist cannot. But at the end of the day none of those reasons for believing in God provide a rational reason for believing in God and so I choose not to believe in any version of God the typical theist has to offer. It is hard to explain particularly to Christians the great amount of freedom and joy that sprung into my life by leaving behind the cage that is the Christian god. I do not need God to have hope and I certainly don’t need God to be good but it seems that it not true for everyone. Perhaps I should be grateful that some people are theists if, like Dostoevsky implies, that is the only thing keeping them from being cannibals. Thankfully I don’t need a god to tell me not to kill and eat another person.
So I turn it back to the Charger to see if he can offer any answers that actually deal with the evidential problem of evil, natural evils or animal suffering because as of yet none have been provided.
(Click here for Charger's response)