My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

I saw this photo at Jerry Coyne’s place a couple of days ago and laughed out loud.  It’s flippant, but the question actually deserves genuine, serious consideration.

To the theists reading this:  When you’re stranded on the throne, why doesn’t God poof a roll into existence for you? He’s surely powerful enough to do it, with less effort than it takes you to lift a finger, so what holds him back?

If your spouse, child, or even a roommate that you didn’t particularly like were in a similar predicament, you would surely be kind enough to rescue them by fetching a roll and placing it outside the bathroom door.  Why doesn’t God do the divine equivalent?

Is it for the same reason that he never restores the limbs of amputees?

150 thoughts on “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

  1. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    Yes, the argument from evil is not an argument against gods in general. It’s only an argument against specific gods who are claimed to be both 1) omnipotent and 2) perfectly good with respect to some particular standard, whether objective or subjective, that clashes with the abundance of evil in the world, where evil is defined with respect to that same standard.

  2. waltowalto

    keiths:
    walto,

    You say that it’s obvious, but it apparently isn’t so obvious to you. Read it again:

    If that is obvious to you, then it should also be obvious that my own subjectivism doesn’t make any difference to my argument.Yet you continue to say things like:

    My “personal relativism” is irrelevant. My argument doesn’t depend on it.Anyone — whether moral subjectivist, moral objectivist, Communist, or harpist — can adopt the theist’s assumptions and show that they conflict with observation.

    You continue to be confused about this. Whether or not your argument depends on this or that premise is a function of what your argument actually is. What is it?

    Put another way, whether somebody’s observations conflict with the theist’s assumptions depend on what their assumptions are, what the the observations are, and why they are claimed to conflict. We are supposing that subjectivism is true, thus, that there is no (objective) evil–whatever, exactly that would mean to you. So now we just need to know what the theists assumptions are, what the observations are and what the conflict is.

    I attempted to give such an argument above. I’m not sure whether you think it captures your claim or not. You seem much more interested in bickering and repeating yourself than in making any substantive contributions here.

  3. waltowalto

    keiths:
    Bruce,

    Yes, the argument from evil is not an argument against gods in general.It’s only an argument against specific gods who are claimed to be both 1) omnipotent and 2) perfectly good with respect to some particular standard, whether objective or subjective, that clashes with the abundance of evil in the world, where evil is defined with respect to that same standard.

    I note first that, for the argument to work, God must also be omniscient. So let’s try to set it up.

    Assume God has all the omnis.
    Assume the theist believes there is evil (as s/he understands this) in the world.

    It doesn’t follow from that that there is no God. To get THAT, you need the world to actually exhibit some property that it cannot exhibit if there is a God or actually fail to exhibit some property that it must exhibit if there is no God. You can’t get that from those premises, even if they are both true. All you can get is that the theist is confused, that s/he OUGHT to believe something else. As you don’t believe in objective oughts, I wouldn’t think you would be completely satisfied with that result. And, after all, many of us already knew the theist was confused, what we wanted was a proof that if necessarily, anything that is God has all the omnis, then there is no God–because, you know, there’s evil and there wouldn’t be.

    Philosophy is about getting the actual arguments right–not just handwaving in their general direction.

  4. BruceS

    walto:
    I’d think computer programming was similar, BWTHDIK?

    I suspect there is software that lets you do a form of programming by using a Microsoft Kinect, ie by waving your hands.

  5. waltowalto

    Yes, the argument from evil is not an argument against gods in general. It’s only an argument against specific gods who are claimed to be both 1) omnipotent and 2) perfectly good with respect to some particular standard, whether objective or subjective, that clashes with the abundance of evil in the world, where evil is defined with respect to that same standard.

    One other point. Suppose there is something, call it Stanley, that is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good according to his own standard, which requires only that nobody ever pull out anybody’s upper left molar for the fun of it. Say, nobody has ever done this, and, by Stanley’s lights, nothing else is evil. Let us further assume that our theists, because of various revelatory experiences, believe in the existence of Stanley.

    I’m guessing these theists would deny that Stanley can be God in spite of having the properties you above suggest together constitute Godliness. And here, I think they’d deny it precisely because they find evil in the world where Stanley does not. That is, I think they would consider Stanley’s standards defective whether he’s always consistent with them or not. I think that would be enough to prevent Him from being in the hunt for the crown by their lights, in spite of His perfect adherence to His own personal standards.

  6. waltowalto

    BruceS: I suspect there is software that lets you do a form of programming by using a Microsoft Kinect, ie by waving your hands.

    Shit. I was afraid of that!

  7. BruceS

    walto:.All you can get is that the theist is confused, that s/he OUGHT to believe something else.As you don’t believe in objective oughts,

    I understand Keith does believe there is an objective ought associated with logical contradiction: you objectively ought not to include logical contradictions in your belief system, which includes your moral beliefs.

    Supposing that, is there a way for the theist to escape the contradiction while still accepting a double-omni God and the world as it is?

    Possibly by saying that a perfectly good God does not mean God must act in the same way that humans must act to be good, because there is a higher good that we are only part of and cannot completely grasp and does not apply to the standard for our actions. I think that avoids the logical contradiction.

  8. waltowalto

    I don’t know how there can ever be “objective oughts” for a subjectivist, though. Does it just mean “Don’t do it!!”?

  9. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    I understand Keith does believe there is an objective ought associated with logical contradiction: you objectively ought not to include logical contradictions in your belief system, which includes your moral beliefs.

    Oh, no — not at all! That ought is just as subjective as the other oughts we’ve been talking about.

    I completely disagree with W.K. Clifford, who wrote:

    It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

  10. BruceS

    keiths:
    Bruce,

    Oh, no — not at all!That ought is just as subjective as the other oughts we’ve been talking about.

    Keith:
    So I take it you think there is no objective reason that theists cannot hold inconsistent beliefs about the properties of God and the world that God created.

    If that is so, what is your argument exactly? What is the objective problem with a theist holding those three beliefs simultaneously?

    ETA: If you say there is no objective problem, then doesn’t that mean it looks like a problem to you, Keith, without implying anything about whether the theist should consider it a problem?

  11. BruceS

    walto:
    I don’t know how there can ever be “objective oughts” for a subjectivist, though.Does it just mean “Don’t do it!!”?

    Now that I see Keith saying he does not believe in an objective epistemic ought to avoid self-contradiction, I have to admit I am confused about why he thinks it is worthwhile to engage in rational argument with someone who held different moral views, and in particular, why he would point out logical inconsistencies in that persons axioms and beliefs. (He said he would in the other thread).

    I suppose there is no harm in trying.

    I do see Keith’s meta-ethical position as closest to how I understand Blackburn’s quasi-realism, ie non-cognitivism with the proviso that we can pretend there are moral truths as the most efficient way to engage in principled discussion with someone whose morals we don’t align with.

    But I agree that such arguments end up as emotional appeals rather than a logical ones given that there is no objective standard to avoid contradiction.

    Give us your take on any of that if you want , Keith.

  12. waltowalto

    keiths:
    Bruce,

    Oh, no — not at all!That ought is just as subjective as the other oughts we’ve been talking about.

    Exactly. That’s why you don’t get much from an argument that concludes

    Theists ought to know better.

  13. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    So I take it you think there is no objective reason that theists cannot hold inconsistent beliefs about the properties of God and the world that God created.

    If a theist wants her arguments, beliefs, and conclusions to be valid and true, then of course it is objectively better for her to ensure her beliefs are consistent and non-contradictory. However, if she asserts that she is under no objective obligation to desire true and consistent beliefs, or to promote their acquisition, then she is correct.

    It’s analogous to our discussion of moral systems on the other thread. Once you have selected the goal for your moral system (social cohesion, say), then you can compare it objectively to other systems in terms of how well it, and they, achieve your goal. But the selection of the goal itself is ultimately subjective, and that means that the “output” of your moral system is also subjective.

    Now that I see Keith saying he does not believe in an objective epistemic ought to avoid self-contradiction, I have to admit I am confused about why he thinks it is worthwhile to engage in rational argument with someone who held different moral views, and in particular, why he would point out logical inconsistencies in that persons axioms and beliefs.

    Because theists almost always care whether their beliefs are true and consistent (WJM being a notable exception). Once a theist has decided that she wants her beliefs to be true and consistent, then you can argue objectively that she ought to modify her beliefs if they are inconsistent.

    If she has decided that it doesn’t matter whether her beliefs are valid and true, then we cannot offer her an objectively compelling reason to revise her inconsistent beliefs.

  14. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    I note first that, for the argument to work, God must also be omniscient. So let’s try to set it up.

    Omniscience isn’t necessary, actually, but let’s leave that particular dispute for later.

    Assume God has all the omnis.
    Assume the theist believes there is evil (as s/he understands this) in the world.

    It doesn’t follow from that that there is no God.

    Of course it doesn’t. My argument is not a logical proof of the omniGod’s nonexistence. It’s a probabilistic argument.

    A theist can always say “God moves in mysterious ways, and it’s all for the best in the end” to excuse any particular instance of evil in the world. It is logically possible that this is correct, and that the slaughter of 220,000 people in the 2004 tsunami (for example) is really a good thing in some cosmic sense.

    It’s highly implausible, however, and much better explanations are available. Here are three:

    a) that God isn’t omnipotent, or
    b) that God isn’t perfectly good by our standards, or
    c) that the God with the specified characteristics simply does not exist.

    I vote for (c), of course.

    Philosophy is about getting the actual arguments right–not just handwaving in their general direction.

    Indeed. Print that out and fasten it to your refrigerator door.

  15. BruceS

    keiths:

    Because theists almost always care whether their beliefs are true and consistent

    Keith:
    I would have guessed that many theists, especially those who weren’t philosophers, care more about faith and the revelation of religious teachings than about logical consistency (or at least than whether they could explain the consistency of God’s creation).

    But that is just my subjective opinion.

  16. BruceS

    Here is a philosophers theodicy that was a novel approach for me.

    It is from Zimmerman’s first slide deck as linked in Sean Carrol’s blog on questions for Philosophy of Cosmology.

    God really likes beautiful laws and lovely initial conditions. God’s enjoyment of them is a good so great that it more than makes up for the suffering they entail.

    God is a utilitarian: It pains God to have to allow us to suffer, but maximizing the overall good is the right and proper thing to do.

    But if elegance and beauty of the laws-plus-initial- conditions are so great, maybe their goodness could make this the best possible world though they exist unappreciated. If only conscious experience is intrinsically good, this won’t work.

    But it seems to me that it would be a noble, high-minded thing for God to forego some aesthetic pleasure in order to prevent all gratuitous suffering.

    If God could arrange it so that every one of us would one day have this amazing aesthetic experience, appreciating the beauty and elegance of the laws-plus-initial-conditions… And if we would then not “wish away” any of our own suffering… That’s a theodicy I find less disturbing.

  17. waltowalto

    keiths,

    keiths:
    walto,

    Omniscience isn’t necessary, actually, but let’s leave that particular dispute for later.

    Of course it doesn’t.My argument is not a logical proof of the omniGod’s nonexistence.It’s a probabilistic argument.

    A theist can always say “God moves in mysterious ways, and it’s all for the best in the end” to excuse any particular instance of evil in the world.It is logically possible that this is correct, and that the slaughter of 220,000 people in the 2004 tsunami (for example) is really a good thing in some cosmic sense.

    It’s highly implausible, however, and much better explanations are available.Here are three:

    a) that God isn’t omnipotent, or
    b) that God isn’t perfectly good by our standards, or
    c) that the God with the specified characteristics simply doesn’t exist.

    Oy, now it’s a probability argument and it’s ‘our’ standards that matter. Who is we and what are the probabilities, exactly? (Feel free to include any names and calculations.)

    Oh, and when you get around to it , please explain how the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent yet stupid being is supposed to guarantee the absence of evil (whatever it is you or we or whoever it is may mean by that term).

  18. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    Please try to rein in your emotions. It will make the discussion go much more smoothly.

    Thanks.

  19. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    I would have guessed that many theists, especially those who weren’t philosophers, care more about faith and the revelation of religious teachings than about logical consistency (or at least than whether they could explain the consistency of God’s creation).

    They may not care about logical consistency for its own sake, but most theists certainly care very much about the truth of their religious beliefs. A typical Christian, for instance, really wants it to be true that Jesus has saved him and that he will spend a blissful eternity in heaven.

    If you want your beliefs to be true, you need to avoid inconsistency.

  20. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    One other point. Suppose there is something, call it Stanley, that is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good according to his own standard, which requires only that nobody ever pull out anybody’s upper left molar for the fun of it. Say, nobody has ever done this, and, by Stanley’s lights, nothing else is evil. Let us further assume that our theists, because of various revelatory experiences, believe in the existence of Stanley.

    OK. So by Stanley’s standards, nothing evil has ever happened, and the theists know this.

    I’m guessing these theists would deny that Stanley can be God in spite of having the properties you above suggest together constitute Godliness.

    I didn’t say that they were necessary or sufficient for godhood. Conceptions of God vary widely.

    And here, I think they’d deny it precisely because they find evil in the world where Stanley does not. That is, I think they would consider Stanley’s standards defective whether he’s always consistent with them or not. I think that would be enough to prevent Him from being in the hunt for the crown by their lights, in spite of His perfect adherence to His own personal standards.

    OK, so they don’t think Stanley is God. How is that relevant to our discussion?

  21. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    I’m guessing these theists would deny that Stanley can be God in spite of having the properties you above suggest together constitute Godliness.

    As explained in the previous comment, I haven’t suggested that those properties “together constitute Godliness.” I believe nothing of the sort, and so I would not have written such a thing.

    I was quite puzzled by your statement and curious to know where you had gotten such a strange idea, so I went back and reread the comments.

    Mystery solved. The error was in your comment but you mistakenly attributed it to me. Here is the relevant part of your comment:

    walto:

    The traditional argument against the existence of God based on the existence of evil goes something like this:

    1. Anything that is God must be omnip., omnisc., and omniben.
    2. If something existed that were omnip., omnisc, and omniben. there would be no evil in the world.
    3. But there is evil in the word.
    4. Therefore, nothing is God.

    Please be more careful, walto.

  22. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths,

    Please try not to assume what others are thinking. Let them tell you how they feel. Things would go much more smoothly then. 😉

  23. keithskeiths Post author

    Alan:

    Please try not to assume what others are thinking. Let them tell you how they feel.

    Alan,

    Walto does a very thorough job of telling me how he feels, which is why I don’t have to assume.

  24. BruceS

    keiths:
    They may not care about logical consistency for its own sake, but most theists certainly care very much about the truth of their religious beliefs.

    If you want your beliefs to be true, you need to avoid inconsistency.

    Keith:

    And yet, the argument from evil has been around for a very long time, and there are still billions of theists in the world.

    How can that be?

  25. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    BruceS: Keith:

    And yet, the argument from evil has been around for a very long time, and there are still billions of theists in the world.

    How can that be?

    “For those who have faith, no evidence is needed; for those without faith, no evidence is sufficient.”

  26. BruceS

    Alan Fox: “For those who have faith, no evidence is needed; for those without faith, no evidence is sufficient.”

    Yes, I think that is one answer, and it implies that theists believe faith trumps human ideas of consistency.

    ETA: Another answer was mentioned by Keith as well: there is no inconsistency since we cannot apply human standards to judging God, due perhaps to our limited knowledge. (See the above extract I quoted for an example of this).

    I see Keith is suggesting a probability argument to deal with that, but I am not sure what the details could be. What is the nature of the sample space? How are probabilities assigned to its elements? Bayesian or Frequentist? It seems to open up a lot of degrees of freedom for theists to use to respond.

  27. waltowalto

    keiths:
    walto,

    As explained in the previous comment, I haven’t suggested that those properties “together constitute Godliness.”I believe nothing of the sort, and so I would not have written such a thing.

    I was quite puzzled by your statement and curious to know where you had gotten such a strange idea, so I went back and reread the comments.

    Mystery solved.The error was in your comment but you mistakenly attributed it to me.Here is the relevant part of your comment:

    walto:

    Please be more careful, walto.

    I gave that argument as the traditional argument from evil. I believe that it is. If you think it’s mistaken, please explain why. It’s bad enough trying to figure out what your “arguments” are, now I have to figure out what the “errors” are (never YOURS, of course!!) too. That, to be God, (or worthy of worship) something must be omnip, omnisc, and omniben, is the standard line. If you think that maybe if Hulk or the Silver Surfer existed, most of the traditional questions revolving around theism would be solved, just say so.

    I think extending your tactic according to which what “good” and “evil” means is whatever you happen to be thinking at the moment, to the meaning of”God”, is why you were “puzzled” (i.e., can’t understand) my argument regarding Stanley. In order to proceed with philosophy, people have to use words at least roughly the same way. I think you may have found equivocation and obscurantism fun and (in its perverse way) profitable on boards like this, so I guess it’s no wonder you like to proceed that way. But I find it problematic.

    If you want your beliefs to be true, you need to avoid inconsistency.

    As I’ve said, that is a principle of the “ethics of belief,” and it’s one that I hold myself. Truth, however, like Good, is not finally determinable with absolute certainty. Apparent disconfirmations may be later seen in new lights and themselves tossed. The point is, assenting to principles like “Be consistent if you want to be correct!” and claiming some sort of universality for them is in much the same boat as assenting to principles like “Don’t kill for fun if you want to be good!” The difference is that one appeals to science and the other doesn’t, which is important to logical empiricist types, who believe that only what science can confirm can be meaningful.

    Anyhow, you, clearly, won’t define your terms in spite of have being asked to do so numerous times and refuse to plainly state any of your arguments. And you and I, I think it’s clear, are at loggerheads. Bruce has generously tried to put some of your claims in forms comprehensible to (error-prone dunces like) me, but has failed–both by your (so bright!) lights and my (extremely dim) ones. I was wondering therefore, if anybody else might like to take a crack at explaining to me what the hell you are talking about.

    A couple of posters here have written posts that suggest that they are also sympathetic to some kind of personal subjectivism. Maybe they are clear where their views might be found on a list of standard ethical stances at Wikipedia or SEP or someplace else. So maybe they also have a sense where you are too, and would be kind enough to educate me on the matter. I make this plea because trying to discuss this with you is clearly getting us nowhere and is increasingly boring and unpleasant to me.

    ETA: Also, if someone might want to do some of the probability calculations that I’m still waiting on from you, that would be helpful as well.

  28. waltowalto

    Just wanted to add that if “God” is to mean not that which is omnip, etc. but whatever the hell, it’s pretty obvious that no argument from evil is going to work. The argument depends on the traditional understanding of what is worthy of worship. If, e.g., one took “God” to mean “The really impressive fellow who sometimes has the head of an elephant” it’s going to be tough to use philosophical arguments either to prove or disprove anything whatever. That is fine, of course, for these type of arguments are indeed like angels-on-pins arguments and likely seem silly to many on their face, but the point of them here is that theists have attempted to concoct arguments for the existence of God, so atheists and agnostics get to return the favor. However, you have to stick with their definitions to do this, not fart around with your own.

    ETA: I should have said “….no argument from evil should be depended upon to work” because, I guess, you might be able to concoct some kind of thingy that would work against some kinds of “God.” It wouldn’t be what most people mean by “The Argument From Evil” though, because THAT is a particular argument with a particular use. It’s not about proving the non-existence of the Hulk based on the existence of Magneto.

  29. waltowalto

    BruceS:

    I see Keith is suggesting a probability argument to deal with that, but I am not sure what the details could be.What is the nature of the sample space?How are probabilities assigned to its elements?Bayesian or Frequentist?It seems to open up a lot of degrees of freedom for theists to use to respond.

    I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about those issues, if I were you. I think you were in the presence of a dodge of the following kind.

    1. Joe says he has an argument for something.
    2. It is pointed out to Joe that such “argument” as he has is awful.
    3. Joe responds, “Yeah, but it’s a probability argument!”

  30. BruceS

    walto:
    3. Joe responds, “Yeah, but it’s a probability argument!”

    Maybe Keith meant IBE rather than probabilistic argument since he also uses that term. (I don’t think the two terms mean the same thing but Keith may disagree).

    But then “best” would need to be un-ought-ified somehow.

  31. waltowalto

    BruceS: Maybe Keith meant IBE rather than probabilistic argument since he also uses that term.

    I spend WAY more time than makes any sense trying to figure out what keiths may have meant by something he’s posted. Maybe you do too. If he would deign to answer some questions about what he means, that would be unnecessary, you know?

    Anyhow, I’m tired of it. I think I’ll follow your lead on the other thread and bow out.

  32. keithskeiths Post author

    walto:

    Oy, now it’s a probability argument and it’s ‘our’ standards that matter. Who is we and what are the probabilities, exactly? (Feel free to include any names and calculations.)

    walto:

    I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about those issues, if I were you. I think you were in the presence of a dodge of the following kind.

    1. Joe says he has an argument for something.
    2. It is pointed out to Joe that such “argument” as he has is awful.
    3. Joe responds, “Yeah, but it’s a probability argument!”

    Walto, you crack me up. Click here: probabilistic arguments from evil

  33. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    There are hundreds of gods and goddesses, now and throughout the history of religion, who don’t qualify as omniGods. The omni-properties are not essential.

    Even in monotheism, omni-properties aren’t essential. Are you aware of process theology?

    You misattributed your view to me, and your view itself is incorrect.

  34. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    The above are just two examples of an ongoing pattern:

    1. You make a mistake.
    2. You attribute it to me.
    3. You make a huge deal out of it.
    4. I point out that the mistake is yours.
    5. You tap dance.

    Besides being annoying, that behavior doesn’t serve your best interests.

  35. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    And yet, the argument from evil has been around for a very long time, and there are still billions of theists in the world.

    How can that be?

    Remember, your original question was about me, not them:

    Now that I see Keith saying he does not believe in an objective epistemic ought to avoid self-contradiction, I have to admit I am confused about why he thinks it is worthwhile to engage in rational argument with someone who held different moral views, and in particular, why he would point out logical inconsistencies in that persons axioms and beliefs.

    If a theist wants her views to be true, then it is objectively important for her to pay attention to consistency, and I can make that argument. Whether she accepts it is beyond my control.

  36. BruceS

    keiths:

    Remember, your original question was about me, not them:

    If a theist wants her views to be true, then it is objectively important for her to pay attention to consistency, and I can make that argument.Whether she accepts it is beyond my control.

    Keith: Rather than the question you quote, in raising the point about theists, faith, and consistency, I was thinking of your statement that most theists want their beliefs to be true and consistent. I was arguing that they might not agree with how you see consistency or on whether there is a logical inconsistency in the beliefs they hold.

    I had a brief look at the link to the probabalistic arguments you provided, especially the SEP stuff, and it confirmed for me that this raises many complications.

    For sure, a probabilistic argument would not seem to be a strong enough argument to convince a theist that there is no God because the public stall does not have a toilet roll.

    And that is beside the fact that God is unlikely to be a member of the janitors union and a perfect God would surely not be Someone who does a union job when not a member of the union.

    Anyway, I am going to leave this thread too.

  37. keithskeiths Post author

    Bruce,

    For sure, a probabilistic argument would not seem to be a strong enough argument to convince a theist that there is no God because the public stall does not have a toilet roll.

    But of course, the toilet paper problem is just a tiny subset of the larger problem of evil. To defeat the probabilistic argument from evil, the theist would have to show that in spite of the enormous amount of evil and suffering in the world, it is nevertheless more probable that their God exists than that he doesn’t.

    Good luck to them.

    Consider an analogy:

    You are a child with an absentee father. Your mother and siblings all tell you how wonderful your father is; incredibly powerful, wise, and loving. Webcams and microphones are installed throughout the house. Your mother tells you that your father is constantly monitoring those so that he is aware of everything that happens in your home.

    A neighbor comes by periodically and beats you and your siblings with a baseball bat, in full view of the webcams. You cry out to your father, but he doesn’t respond, and despite all his power, he does nothing to prevent the beatings. When your uncle sexually abuses you, the same thing happens; you cry out to father, but your father does nothing to prevent the abuse. You begin to wonder if your father is loving after all, or whether he is as powerful as your mother claims. You even sometimes wonder if he exists at all. Maybe he’s dead, and your mother is just telling you an elaborate story to make you feel watched over and loved.

    You tell your mother about the beatings and the rape, and ask her why your father doesn’t intervene. She says that your father is far more loving and wise than you are, and that if he permits these atrocities, there must be a very good reason that’s beyond your ken. Perhaps he’s teaching you about perseverance in the face of suffering, or maybe it’s just really important to him that your neighbor and uncle be allowed to exercise their free will in beating and raping you.

    Would it be rational to accept your mother’s explanation? Is that the best explanation available?

    Of course not. It’s a ridiculous explanation, and the alternatives are far better.

    I hope it’s obvious how this analogy relates to the problem of evil, and why the theistic responses are so inadequate.

  38. keithskeiths Post author

    I should add that my analogy considerably understates the problem for the omnitheist. In a more accurate analogy, the father himself would do some of the beating, and some of those beatings would be fatal.

    The problem of evil is very real, which is why it is taken seriously in philosophical and theological circles.

  39. BruceS

    keiths:
    Bruce:For sure, a probabilistic argument would not seem to be a strong enough argument to convince a theist that there is no God because the public stall does not have a toilet roll.

    Keith But of course, the toilet paper problem is just a tiny subset of the larger problem of evil.

    Keith: If there is one thing about objectivity that my exchanges with you have convinced me of, it is that the presence of humor in a my written comments is not an objective property of the world.

  40. keithskeiths Post author

    Keith: If there is one thing about objectivity that my exchanges with you have convinced me of, it is that the presence of humor in a my written comments is not an objective property of the world.

    Indeed. 🙂

    Anyway, the point of the whole comment was that the complications arising from a probabilistic argument aren’t very daunting, and that the omnitheist remains at a huge disadvantage relative to the skeptic.

  41. keithskeiths Post author

    walto,

    Now that you’ve had some time to cool down, I’d like to bring a couple of things to your attention.

    You wrote this:

    Bruce has generously tried to put some of your claims in forms comprehensible to (error-prone dunces like) me, but has failed–both by your (so bright!) lights and my (extremely dim) ones.

    When you make a mistake and someone else points it out and explains it, they are not calling you an “error-prone dunce” or “extremely dim”, nor are they claiming to be “so bright!” They’re simply pointing out an error and explaining what they think the mistake is.

    If you see these discussions as pitched battles where your very dignity is at stake, then it’s no wonder you get so worked up and combative!

    Also, I reread the thread with your many complaints in mind. You claimed:

    1. That my argument equivocated on ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
    2. That my argument needed to account for my own subjectivism.
    3. That I was trying to prove the nonexistence of God.
    4. That I “dodged” by stating that my argument was probabilistic.
    5. That I had defined God as necessarily being an “omniGod”.
    6. That I hadn’t stated my argument or clarified my use of terms.

    All of those claims are wrong. (I won’t bore readers by linking to and quoting the voluminous evidence unless someone asks. I would suggest re-reading the enitre thread as a better alternative.) Not only that, you could have avoided making most of those mistakes by simply reading the comments of mine that came before.

    Surely it makes more sense to read and ponder what your interlocutor is saying, rather than misattributing your own mistakes to him and getting worked up about it. Wouldn’t you agree?

  42. waltowalto

    Oh, yes. I entirely agree that people should reread the entire thread to see who is misattributing, dodging, bullshitting, and now, masterbaiting.

    I’d love to hear their thoughts!

  43. BruceS

    keiths:

    Anyway, the point of the whole comment was that the complications arising from a probabilistic argument aren’t very daunting

    Keith:
    Maybe to you. But have you seen this? It hurts my head to even read it. And I have university formal training in probability and statistics (but it was a long time ago).

    Most people, including most theists I imagine, have not had such training. I suspect they would think “Bayesian” refers to a type of lakefront cottage property.

  44. keithskeiths Post author

    keiths:

    Anyway, the point of the whole comment was that the complications arising from a probabilistic argument aren’t very daunting…

    Bruce:

    Maybe to you. But have you seen this? It hurts my head to even read it. And I have university formal training in probability and statistics (but it was a long time ago).

    But probabilistic arguments don’t have to be that complicated. Take my fable, for instance. The mother’s explanation is less likely to be true (i.e. less probable) than some of the alternatives, and you don’t need technical training in probability to see that.

    Most people, including most theists I imagine, have not had such training. I suspect they would think “Bayesian” refers to a type of lakefront cottage property.

    I prefer Hamiltonian architecture, myself. 🙂

  45. keithskeiths Post author

    At UD, commenter JDH presents a defense against the problem of evil and asks for feedback. I can’t respond there because of UD’s rampant censorship, so my reply is below:

    JDH October 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    A take on the POE I have not seen yet. I would appreciate any critiques.

    Happy to oblige, JDH. Your defense is similar to something I considered as a youth, when trying to rescue my faltering faith.

    I think that we must go beyond the fact that the definition of evil demands a concept of good. I think we must show that given an all powerful, good God, the POE really only exists in the finite person’s mind. There is no POE when the infinite is considered.

    1. My first point starts off as usual defense against POE. God has designed the world with an optimum destiny for his created beings. This design of God is good. I add that the design of God involves eternity.

    2. Evil can only be considered evil if it reduces the optimum state (i.e. causes real suffering) of a created sentient being.

    Such evil definitely exists. That’s already evidence against your omniGod.

    3. God has included free will amongst the creatures that inhabit His universe. If these decisions are in the smallest part free, there is the possibility of finite amounts of evil caused by decisions that are not optimum. Less than optimum choices by finite beings can create either self-inflicted suffering, or the suffering of others.

    First, God can prevent this kind of suffering without depriving his creatures of free will. Click here for an explanation of how it would work with respect to murder.

    Second, plenty of worldly suffering is due to natural disasters. You can’t blame those on the exercise of free will (unless you try to pin them on Satan or something ridiculous like that — but such an approach raises its own problems.)

    Third, God routinely limits the exercise of free will. Suppose you wish to cause excruciating pain to your enemies by sticking pins into voodoo dolls. God doesn’t provide a world in which voodoo works. If God can stymie your attempts at voodoo without thwarting your free will, then why can’t he stymie your attempts at murder?

    4. The destiny God wants for all the sentient beings is to have eternal life.

    I don’t know about your particular brand of Christianity, but sentient animals are out of luck according to many Christians. They suffer, they die, and there is no compensation.

    5. We have numerous case histories on earth (indeed it is part of pop culture) where sentient beings, have commented that a little finite in time suffering they have suffered has actually made them better people and they are thankful for it. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    That doesn’t work as an excuse for an omniGod who can make you stronger without causing you to suffer.

    6. Any finite amount of suffering caused in our finite lives will be insignificant compared to the glory of eternity. In mathematical terms, any finite number divided by infinity is still zero no matter how large the finite number.

    By the same reasoning, no finite sin deserves eternal punishment. Hell should not exist.

    The fact is that even finite suffering matters. Ask yourself which you’d prefer: a) decades of continuous, unbearable agony followed by eternal bliss, or b) decades of bliss followed by more bliss, forever? Are you going to shrug and say it doesn’t matter? I don’t think so.

    7. Then what about the fact that God condemns some people to an eternity of hell. Is this not evil? No.

    Through Jesus Christ God has made it possible for any of his sentient beings to join him in eternity. He has provided the choice for anyone to avoid eternal suffering.

    If he were a loving God, he would allow his creatures to make that choice at any time, including after death. How many people would choose to remain in eternal agony in hell if God offered them the chance to leave? Why doesn’t he?

    IMHO He has fashioned the world such that the only logical choice is believe in Him. The fact that some people choose to disbelieve God is not based on evidence, but their choice to find a justification to disbelieve the evidence.

    I hope you realize how ridiculous that is. The very issue we’re discussing, the problem of evil, is powerful evidence against the God you believe in. Your defense doesn’t work, as explained above.

  46. RobinRobin

    I hope you realize how ridiculous that is.The very issue we’re discussing, the problem of evil, is powerful evidence against the God you believe in.Your defense doesn’t work, as explained above.

    The problem, from my perspective, that no theist is ever able to address, is the arbitrariness and imbalance of evil. I would buy into a god if everyone experienced more or less the same level of evil. But we don’t; some people experience little or even no evil while others experience evil for entire lives. That makes any existing god rather capricious and malevolent in my book. Certainly not something worth worshiping or frankly even considering. Makes much more sense to see such events as a natural bell-curve distribution. Sure it still sucks to be some people, but at least it isn’t personal.

  47. keithskeiths Post author

    Robin,

    Makes much more sense to see such events as a natural bell-curve distribution. Sure it still sucks to be some people, but at least it isn’t personal.

    It’s exactly what we expect to see if the omniGod doesn’t exist. Theists forget that the question they should be asking is “What is the best explanation for our observations?”, not “How can I twist the observations, no matter how implausibly, so that I don’t have to give up my security blanket?”

  48. RobinRobin

    keiths:
    Robin,

    It’s exactly what we expect to see if the omniGod doesn’t exist.Theists forget that the question they should be asking is “What is the best explanation for our observations?”, not “How can I twist the observations, no matter how implausibly, so that I don’t have to give up my security blanket?”

    Quite so.

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