The Problem of Evil revisited…

The late Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder (to be sure a fallen man himself), crtitiqued theodicy with the following questions. I’d like to hear from both the theists and atheists on this site what their responses are to his questions:

a) Where do you get the criteria by which you evaluate God? Why are the criteria you use the right ones?

b) Why [do] you think you are qualified for the business of accrediting God/s?

c) If you think you are qualified for that business, how does the adjudication proceed? [W]hat are the lexical rules?

168 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil revisited…

  1. Jackson Knepp: One of my concerns with the objectivity/subjectivity dichotomy is that in one sense if we go with a hard objectivity lens, objectivity loses all meaning as it doesn’t impact the subject at all. Such was the criticism of objectivity by the socalled “father of existentialism” (SK), I believe.

    Somewhat more precisely (from what I understand): Kierkegaard argued that making the life of religious faith a matter of objective knowledge threatened to empty faith of all content that really matters — because faith is ultimately a matter of subjective importance, or what is important to us as subjects.

    I think that Kierkegaard is basically right about this, though I myself come out of the Jewish appropriation of Kierkegaard in Buber, Rosensweig, and Levinas.

    However, it must be stressed that a Kierkegaardian or Jamesian approach to faith is incompatible with assigning to faith any epistemic function strong enough to warrant inclusion in the public sphere.

    One certainly can be an religious existentialist without shirking any epistemic duties, but religious existentialism also commits one to a secular public sphere precisely one’s own passionate inwardness is one’s own, and is sharply set off from any claims that are put forth for the rational assessment of others.

    (On a personal note: welcome to TSZ! I hope you stick around!)

  2. theists apply a different standard to their religious beliefs than they do in every other area of their lives.

    Agreed.

    However, approaching truth is a little more subtle than the way you are characterizing it because of the FACT of uncertainty. It may be true that I don’t need to buy an extended warranty plan on a new device. The device will last X number of months or it will not, but I don’t know that ahead of time. I make a decision in the face of uncertainty because it feels like the right thing to do to purchase the insurance.

    You’ve made the choice that you won’t believe unless God shows up in your repeatable experiments. A God who is on demand is no God. God may not want seekers with that attitude. Thus if such a God exists, you won’t find him. I respect that. But that kind of epistemology is not for me.

    In the world of skilled gambling there is the notion of “Certainty Equivalent”. It provides a way to equate the value of certain small amounts of money to money that is uncertain but potentially larger. If the EV hourly payoff of a game of Blackjack is 100 dollars, it has a certainty equivalent to a certain hourly wage of 50 dollars according to some mathematical formula worked out by investment risk managers (I think it involves stuff like utility functions, etc. ).

    You want more certainty in what you believe. I respect that, but I don’t find a lot of potential payoffs in the some scientific certainties on trillion year time scales. There is scientific certainty my human existence here on Earth won’t be around in a trillion years. Not much potential personal value can be extracted from the 2nd on such timescales (though useful knowledge for engineers of my heating and A/C while I’m alive).

    One could go into realms where there is less certainty like the handed down testimony of the ages that Jesus existed. We could hypothesize he was real and is who he said he was on what little shreds of forensic clues we have. Or we could decide it’s too little to go on and won’t believe unless He delivers a fireworks show in our on-demand experiments.

    I’d be on your side of the issue if I thought the evolutionary biologists and OOL researchers made the case that life is the natural expectation of typical processes on the Earth and in the universe. To my mind, life looks like a miracle. The certainty equivalent of the 2nd law of thermodynamics on trillion year time scales is about $0.00 for me, so given that I think life is a miracle, and that I find the idea of God believable, I’m more willing to accept some religious claims on the faith that they have divine origin even in the face of uncertainty and scarcity of direct experience.

    It seems a rational way of looking at the issue. It’s not just about what is true, but which truths provide an associated payoff or cost for subscribing to them or not in the face of many unknowns.

  3. Kantian Naturalist,

    And in that regard, the criticism of the double standard is a good objection to “the Religious Right”.

    But the double standard is not a problem for other people when the person of faith is only insisting on his or her right to affirm the existence of a transcendent Being as central to his or her personal life.

    I certainly don’t take issue with that. This is very rarely the kind of view proferred hereabouts, though. Much more likely (as in the broken-record case that moral judgements by atheists are ‘irrational’, ‘illogical’ or mere flavour choices) the atheist is being taken to task for not grounding their views ‘the right way’ – or for not having ‘the right view’ about what is even a proper arena for moral judgements vs judgements of protocol.

  4. KN,

    Placher argues that “the problem of evil” as an intellectual problem — is the fact of evil logically consistent with classical theism? — is itself a deep failure to understand the sheer transcendence of God as taught by classical theism. It’s an intellectualization, a rationalization, an attempt to make God comprehensible and thereby deny His radical otherness from us.

    That argument isn’t available to most theists, who insist on making claims about God.

    In practice, theists will talk all day long about how God is sublime, powerful, wise, and good. When the topic turns to evil, then they suddenly start talking about how God is inscrutable. It’s an obvious double standard.

  5. KN,

    My own take — for which keiths and others here have criticized me, though not yet with much effect — is that the epistemic double-standard is a problem only when the theist insists on using his or her religious experiences as grounding the claims that he or she puts forth in a public space of reasons. And in that regard, the criticism of the double standard is a good objection to “the Religious Right”.

    But the double standard is not a problem for other people when the person of faith is only insisting on his or her right to affirm the existence of a transcendent Being as central to his or her personal life.

    I wouldn’t dream of denying you that right, nor would anyone else at TSZ, as far as I can tell.

    Yet you wish to deny my right to criticize religious beliefs in certain cases:

    I don’t think that non-believers have any business criticizing religious beliefs as such. Non-believers have a right to criticize religious beliefs only when believers are drawing upon their religious beliefs in order to justify public laws and policies that non-believers are also obliged to follow (including, as noted above, protected legal status attaching to religious communities).

    That’s just silly. Non-believers, like everyone else, are entitled to criticize beliefs with which they disagree. No exemption for religious beliefs. No double standard.

  6. Jackson Knepp,

    Where we differ is…I don’t feel the need to clarify and say “external” reality. Why not just say we inhabit reality? What does the clarification “external” reality bring to the question?

    I’m sure that’s not the only place we differ, but I’m happy to use the word reality unadorned. My intention was to avoid brain-in-a-vat scenarios and solipsism in general. Thankfully you don’t appear to be going there.

    I also agree we can work together to test ideas etc. I don’t disagree with that at all. However, what do you mean by the nature of reality? Is it important to you that that “nature” be subjective or objective? In my view it is just the “nature of reality.” Nothing more. And the nature of reality can only be experienced subjectively – to use your language.

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t of something objective. That is, something that actually exists or occurs outside of an individual’s head.

    If one were to make a claim about an experience with God, why couldn’t that be tested like other propositions?

    That would depend on the claimed experience. If there is objective, empirical evidence of the existence of a god or gods, I’d be very interested in examining it. If it’s just someone claiming to be “filled with the holy spirit”, that’s not evidence for anything other than the person having a particular mental experience.

    As for me, a theist, I make judgements about “the nature of reality” as I see it when measured against the whole of my experiential knowledge. Not sure what else to say there…

    If you’re willing to share, what do you consider the most convincing evidence for the existence of a god or gods? And if you’re willing to speculate, what would convince you that a god or gods probably don’t exist?

  7. Kantian Naturalist,

    My own take — for which keiths and others here have criticized me, though not yet with much effect — is that the epistemic double-standard is a problem only when the theist insists on using his or her religious experiences as grounding the claims that he or she puts forth in a public space of reasons. And in that regard, the criticism of the double standard is a good objection to “the Religious Right”.

    But the double standard is not a problem for other people when the person of faith is only insisting on his or her right to affirm the existence of a transcendent Being as central to his or her personal life.

    An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.

    I’m fine with that. As I’ve noted here before, my only real problem with IDCists and other evangelicals is that they vote.

  8. stcordova,

    It seems a rational way of looking at the issue. It’s not just about what is true, but which truths provide an associated payoff or cost for subscribing to them or not in the face of many unknowns.

    With all due respect, that has the foul odor of Pascal’s Wager.

  9. Jackson Knepp:Why not just say we inhabit realityIf you say external reality are you sort of conceding and internal reality anyway? Why not just say reality?

    I note you also wrote which “we (subjects) perceive to varying degrees.” I am sure you can see the internal questions that would arise if that statement underwent a rigid critical analysis.

    I also agree we can work together to test ideas etc. I don’t disagree with that at all. However, what do you mean by the nature of reality? Is it important to you that that “nature” be subjective or objective? In my view it is just the “nature of reality.” Nothing more. And the nature of reality can only be experienced subjectively – to use your language. One of my concerns with the objectivity/subjectivity dichotomy is that in one sense if we go with a hard objectivity lens, objectivity loses all meaning as it doesn’t impact the subject at all. Such was the criticism of objectivity by the socalled “father of existentialism” (SK), I believe.

    If one were to make a claim about an experience with God, why couldn’t that be tested like other propositions? I am inclined deny the supernatural/natural dichotomy at one level.

    As for me, a theist, I make judgements about “the nature of reality” as I see it when measured against the whole of my experiential knowledge. Not sure what else to say there…

    I’ll see your concern and raise you the problem with treating subjective experience as the same as objective experience:

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/vigil-children-mom-allegedly-killed-exorcism/story?id=21590396

    Sadly, this is not an isolated case.

  10. Patrick, to Sal:

    With all due respect, that has the foul odor of Pascal’s Wager.

    Of which Sal is a big fan.

  11. keiths:
    KN,

    I wouldn’t dream of denying you that right, nor would anyone else at TSZ, as far as I can tell.

    I know that — I apologize for having suggested that I thought otherwise.

    Non-believers, like everyone else, are entitled to criticize beliefs with which they disagree. No exemption for religious beliefs. No double standard.

    Actually, I’ve come around to agreeing with you. I’d put my position differently now, as follows:

    Non-believers have an epistemological obligation to criticize religious beliefs only when believers are drawing upon their religious beliefs in order to justify public laws and policies that non-believers are also obliged to follow (including, as noted above, protected legal status attaching to religious communities).

    Even though “obligation” is not quite the right term, it’s better than “right”, which suggests what one is merely permitted to do. What I was trying to capture, in talking about “right” earlier, is that rights are the sorts of things the exercise of which cannot be infringed upon. I wasn’t focusing on what one is permitted to do, but that no one else is permitted to interfere with the exercise of what one is permitted to do.

  12. “one might also think that a correct acknowledgement of the Holocaust requires rejecting theodicy — though not rejecting God”

    But you have also rejected God (Yahweh), have you not, KN?

    p.s. I’m not going to read your most likely philosophistic paper about Adorno & Levinas, that you linked to.

  13. KN:

    Actually, I’ve come around to agreeing with you. I’d put my position differently now, as follows:

    Non-believers have an epistemological obligation to criticize religious beliefs only when believers are drawing upon their religious beliefs in order to justify public laws and policies that non-believers are also obliged to follow (including, as noted above, protected legal status attaching to religious communities).

    I still have to disagree.

    Suppose a group of Phelpsian thugs goes around beating up gays because they believe that “God hates fags”. They aren’t “drawing upon their religious beliefs in order to justify public laws and policies”, but we still have a moral obligation to dispute their beliefs.

  14. Gregory: But you have also rejected God (Yahweh), have you not, KN?

    Of course not. Just because I’m not Orthodox doesn’t mean that I reject the experiential encounter with YHWH as mediated by the traditions and practices of Reform Judaism. The problem here is that you don’t seem to understand anything about the history of American Judaism and aren’t interested in learning anything.

    p.s. I’m not going to read your most likely philosophistic paper about Adorno & Levinas.

    You shouldn’t read it; there’s a terrible danger that you might learn something that will require you to revise your assumptions about me.

  15. Lizzie:

    The only “problem of evil” I see is how to mitigate it.

    Lizzie, to Jackson:

    Well, the problem of how to mitigate evil is a huge and important one.

    Did you have a different problem in mind?

    Of course. He’s talking about the same problem of evil that you acknowledged here:

    Of course Welby admits the severity of “the problem of evil”. The reason there even IS a “problem of evil” is because of omnitheism. It’s not a problem for anyone else.

  16. “Just because I’m not Orthodox doesn’t mean that I reject the experiential encounter with YHWH” – KN

    You have said here that you’re an atheist, a secular (ex-reformed) Jew, that you are a ‘horizontal’ disenchanted person. What of that is now incorrect?

    How can you have an ‘experiential encounter’ with something that (you believe) doesn’t exist?

  17. Lizzie,

    What we might call “evil” is the intentional causing of “bad” for no net benefit to anything else.

    That’s a poor definition, because evil acts remain evil even if they redound to someone’s net benefit.

    A scammer benefits from cheating you of your life savings, but that hardly means that doing so isn’t evil.

  18. Kantian Naturalist,

    KN,

    Thank you very much for the paper.

    I don’t try to explain the problem of evil in particular detail (a specific theodicy). I think that is counter productive.

    However I think there can be a hypothetical faith theodicy that there will be for a good purpose. Maybe that may not even be a theodicy but an avoidance of trying to work out how good can come of such awful experience, but that avoidance of working out details does not mean one fundamentally believes there is no purpose, one merely is acknowledging it may be beyond knowledge to grasp all the reasons, much like Job being subject to the troubles God sent his way. Even God didn’t provide much of a theodicy in the book of Job!

    This is not really an explanation or a proof, but just a faith belief perhaps as Frankl suggested to his patients. After all, Frankl is one of the few to survive Auschwitz. and find personal purpose out such horrors.

    Thanks again for the paper.

    PS
    Have you read Frankl. Do you have any thoughts?

  19. No, Mung. It’s “hypothetical faith theodicy.” 😉

    And the moron still misspells Auschwitz. He thinks it’s a ‘switch’! 😉 But he’ll never apologise for that!!

  20. Gregory: You have said here that you’re an atheist, a secular (ex-reformed) Jew, that you are a ‘horizontal’ disenchanted person. What of that is now incorrect?

    All of it, pretty much.

    I’m a Jewish religious existentialist, and I still identify as a Reform Jew (nothing “ex-” about it). I’m a secularist about the state and strongly sympathetic to Habermas’ “post-secularism” about cultural politics in the public sphere. And I’ve been strongly critical of disenchantment, both at TSZ and in my published work (for example, here, where I am strongly sympathetic to McDowell’s criticism of the disenchantment of nature, and also here, where I criticize McDowell for his refusal to engage with Adorno’s critique of the domination of nature).

    The thought that a rejection of vertical transcendence entails disenchantment might be central to your view, but it plays no role in mine. In fact I think pretty much the exact opposite, which is that a rejection of vertical transcendence is necessary for a liberatory re-enchantment of nature (including human nature).

    How can you have an ‘experiential encounter’ with something that doesn’t exist?

    YHWH (or, as I prefer Ha-Shem) is real from within the religious or spiritual stance. I think that Kukla’s work on stances as essentially embodied (see here) is an absolutely important correction to Dennett’s more intellectualist construal of what a stance is. But whereas Kukla sees no room for thinking about religion as a kind of stance, I disagree; on my view, the religious stance is a fully legitimate as a kind of pragmatic embodied coping attitude, just like the clinical stance, the economic stance and other stances Kukla considers.

  21. “I’m a Jewish religious existentialist, and I still identify as a Reform Jew”

    O.k. so you thus are ready and willing to make a ‘spiritual interpretation’ of Genesis in the Varieties of Religious Language thread?

    You’ve called yourself an atheist here before. Maybe something has changed in the past couple of weeks.

    Go right ahead, KN.

  22. “the religious stance is a fully legitimate as a kind of pragmatic embodied coping attitude”

    Honestly, KN, do you sniff anything?

  23. Gregory: O.k. so you thus are ready and willing to make a ‘spiritual interpretation’ of Genesis in the Varieties of Religious Language thread?

    I did that twice before in that thread. It was ignored both times. I’m not inclined to bother again.

    You’ve called yourself an atheist here before. Maybe something has changed in the past couple of weeks.

    What’s changed is my recognition that metaphysical naturalism is incompatible with natural piety, for (roughly) the reasons that Hanna gives in his recent work on Kant. The only part of atheism that I endorse is that, in practical discourse, the term “atheism” has become de facto synonymous with anti-clericalism and secularism.

    And I’ve become increasingly disgusted by the Islamophobia of “the New Atheists” — especially the odious Bill Maher, who has become their spokesperson in the US media. I think that people who rightly reject the fascist tendencies of contemporary Abrahamic religiosity (whether in the guise of Marco Rubio, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) are rarely aware of how fascistic their own atheism sounds.

  24. Kantian Naturalist,

    And I’ve become increasingly disgusted by the Islamophobia of “the New Atheists” — especially the odious Bill Maher, who has become their spokesperson in the US media.

    I don’t watch Maher regularly, but I often enjoy him when I do. What has he said that demonstrates Islamophobia? (And what does Islamophobia mean? Being phobic of the jihadists seems sensible to me.)

  25. So this hypothetical god-concept that the atheists lack belief in is tested against the very real evil in the world that everyone admits has objective existence? That’s “the problem of evil”?

  26. Mung,

    So this hypothetical god-concept that the atheists lack belief in is tested against the very real evil in the world that everyone admits has objective existence? That’s “the problem of evil”?

    No, but I doubt that’ll stop you from pretending that it is.

    See my Frank example and this follow-up comment.

  27. Patrick: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.

    I’m fine with that. As I’ve noted here before, my only real problem with IDCists and other evangelicals is that they vote.

    And not to put words in your mouth, but to add that the problem with them voting is that they vote for so many things which directly harm others.

  28. Patrick, to KN:

    What has he said that demonstrates Islamophobia? (And what does Islamophobia mean? Being phobic of the jihadists seems sensible to me.)

    I too am interested in the answers to those questions.

  29. Jackson:

    As an example, what does omnipotent mean? If it means the ability to the “illogical”…well then it is illogical without any further explanation necessary.

    No, there’s general agreement that omnipotence only means “able to do all things that are logically possible”.

    If omnigood, when paired with omnipotent, means bad things never happen, well clearly they do.

    It isn’t necessarily that stark. The omnitheist can always argue that God tolerates evil in the world in service of a greater good, and that God’s attempting to eliminate evil would actually make the world worse.

    The problem is that theists can’t offer persuasive explanations of how, for example, dogs’ eating babies’ heads makes the world a better place. What does God accomplish by allowing such things to happen?

    And which of the following is more likely?

    a) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, but he countenances dogs’ eating babies’ heads (along with the rest of the horrendous evil and suffering in the world) for some reason or reasons that no one can name or even suggest; or

    b) God isn’t omnipotent, or isn’t omnibenevolent, or doesn’t exist at all.

    Option (b) is the clear winner.

  30. keiths,

    I have offered explanations. That you can’t accept the explanations is another story.

    Good can’t exist without its opposite. There is no way to define good without not-good.

    Maybe its just the self centered need of humans that is flawed. You only have to live on this planet for a short time. And anyone could leave if they didn’t like. Most people feel its a worthwhile trade, and prefer there being this world to none at all.

    If you had a choice, would you choose this world, or no world at all Keith?

  31. Mung,

    What you call objective, Lizzie prefers to call intrinsic. Its so much more mysterious.

    I guess its like emergent. i.e. magic.

  32. keiths: The problem is that theists can’t offer persuasive explanations of how, for example, dogs’ eating babies’ heads makes the world a better place.

    Last time I asked, you refused to state this was an evil act. Are you willing to do so now?

  33. Mung:

    Last time I asked, you refused to state this was an evil act. Are you willing to do so now?

    I didn’t refuse. I pointed out that the dog’s morality was irrelevant. We’re talking about G-O-D, not D-O-G.

    As for God, he didn’t act. He failed to act, and is culpable for that.

    His failure to act was evil by almost everyone’s standards (including mine).

    It’s why I wrote this:

    Read the entire passage and then answer a couple of questions for us:

    If God is omniscient, he knew that the dog was about to eat the baby’s head. If God is omnipotent, he could have prevented it. He knew it was going to happen, but he made the choice not to prevent it.

    Now suppose that the baby’s uncle had been present, that he had observed the dog killing the baby, and that he hadn’t lifted a finger to stop it. Who in their right mind would say, “Oh, what a loving uncle!”

    Your God is that uncle — but even worse, because he could have stopped the tragedy before it even got started. He knew it was going to happen, after all.

    You can tie yourself in knots trying to make excuses for God, or you can accept the obvious conclusion: your omniGod doesn’t exist. If there is a God, he isn’t the omniGod. And more likely still, there is no God at all.

    1. Do you think the uncle in the example above is a loving uncle? Why or why not?

    2. Do you think your God is a perfectly loving God? Why or why not?

    You’ve been dodging those questions for months. Are you finally ready to tackle them?

  34. phoodoo,

    Good can’t exist without its opposite. There is no way to define good without not-good.

    Not true. And even if it were, a single solitary speck of evil would suffice. Are you seriously going to argue that every one of the 230,000 deaths in the 2004 tsunami was necessary so that good could exist? It’s ludicrous.

    If you had a choice, would you choose this world, or no world at all Keith?

    This world, of course. But the relevant question is why an omniGod would choose this world. Is it really the best of all possible worlds? If so, how do you know? If not, why would a perfect omniGod settle for anything less than the best?

  35. Patrick,

    Patrick,

    Thanks for your response.

    No I am not really interested in “brain in a vat” sorts of things. Having said that, I do find the nature of the word reality, to be interesting. What is meant by reality? Is being hungry or lonely a state of reality as an example? Or is being friendly a state of reality? Are friendliness and good will empirical? What about other concepts/desires, or even experiences? I seek to use the whole of my understanding, as a holistic person, to understand reality.

    As for which theistic arguments I find compelling, this also presents some interesting angles. Can one even choose beliefs? Can I decide now not to believe the moon goes around the earth? Can a Muslim just decide to “believe” in Jesus? Is there such a thing as rationally compelling/coercing people to believe certain propositions? And for that matter, even if there was, what good is “right belief?” As a Mennonite, that is my primary quibble with the Protestants. Mental assent to a series of propositions is not really as important as “right living.” I should say, in my “holistic” experience I don’t find that people can simply *choose* not to believe certain things that easily. To the superstitious more is at stake than the best rational argument.

    Now back to the original question, I am a theist because my intuition compels me such. I know, as probably do you, pretty much all (Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological, Moral, personal experience, and many morey) theistic arguments and find them all with some merit. To be sure, a skeptic can always raise objections. So I would concede that one cannot make a rationally coercive theistic argument. To me it seems the theistic arguments when taken together, do establish warrant for theism. If one wants warrant for atheism, perhaps that could be had also. And perhaps a combination of intuition and faith weigh the arguments towards me agreeing they have credibility. I have times of great personal faith because of personal experiences…and other times I wrestle with doubt both as a practice and as a belief.

  36. keiths,

    I still run into a lot of people that like to ask me “Can God make a rock so big he can’t move it?” Well…that is an illogical question. I am glad you don’t believe it includes illogical things. I am more open to considering omnipotent if one excludes illogical things.

    As for your example, regarding a dog eating a baby, (or other natural evils that are not products of what might colloquially be termed *free will*), as you rightly point out are not easily explained. I wrestle with it myself. Let me think on it…

  37. Judging by the questions presented in the OP, Yoder’s solution to the Problem of Evil is You puny humans are too bloody stupid to recognize Good when you see it. He probably uses words like “limited” or “confused” rather than “bloody stupid”, but it amounts to the same thing.

    Well, maybe he’s right. For all any puny human knows, maybe we are too bloody stupid to recognize Good when we see it. Maybe stuff which looks like Evil to us, actually is Good, and would be recognized as Good by any entity that’s not so bloody stupid as we are.

    Yoder’s approach does strike me as a valid solution to the Problem of Evil—but that solution carries with it a rather nasty consequence: It explicitly asserts that us puny humans are incapable of distinguishing Good from Evil. If apparently-Evil-to-us-puny-humans Thing X is actually Good because of stuff we’re too bloody stupid to recognize, how can we be sure that apparently-Good-to-us-puny-humans Thing Y actually is Good, and not Evil because of stuff we’re too bloody stupid to recognize?

    How can any Believer be confident that any of the things they cite as evidence of God’s essential Goodness, actually are Good?

  38. cubist,

    In Christianity — as in Judaism and Islam — there’s a long-standing tension between divine transcendence and divine immanence.

    On the one hand, the more one stresses God’s Otherness from Creation, the harder it is to see how we could say anything about His nature. One can see this path taken in the via negativa theological discourse. Taken the logical extreme, mysticism becomes practically indistinguishable from atheism. On the other hand, the more one stresses how God is knowable by our finite and created minds, the more one threatens to make Him too similar to endanger our egoism, so one loses sight of the abnegation of self that Elizabeth stressed above. And on the third hand, to stress that God is both transcendent and immanent seems contradictory, and we all know that contradictions are false.

    Or are they?

    I think that the best move here, theologically, is to reject the law of noncontradiction and to say that it is the contradiction that is true. Kierkegaard is right — it is the paradox itself that must be affirmed.

  39. Jackson Knepp,

    As for which theistic arguments I find compelling, this also presents some interesting angles. Can one even choose beliefs? Can I decide now not to believe the moon goes around the earth? Can a Muslim just decide to “believe” in Jesus? Is there such a thing as rationally compelling/coercing people to believe certain propositions? And for that matter, even if there was, what good is “right belief?” As a Mennonite, that is my primary quibble with the Protestants. Mental assent to a series of propositions is not really as important as “right living.” I should say, in my “holistic” experience I don’t find that people can simply *choose* not to believe certain things that easily. To the superstitious more is at stake than the best rational argument.

    Would you then agree with this statement from Richard Dawkins?

    “Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their parents ? And it always just happens to be the right religion. Religions run in families. If we’d been brought up in ancient Greece we would all be worshiping Zeus and Apollo. If we had been born Vikings we would be worshiping Wotan and Thor. How does this come about ? Through childhood indoctrination.”

    Now back to the original question, I am a theist because my intuition compels me such. I know, as probably do you, pretty much all (Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological, Moral, personal experience, and many morey) theistic arguments and find them all with some merit. To be sure, a skeptic can always raise objections. So I would concede that one cannot make a rationally coercive theistic argument.

    We’re in agreement there!

    To me it seems the theistic arguments when taken together, do establish warrant for theism.

    I don’t agree that heaping a bunch of poor and refuted arguments together results in a strong argument.

    Do you think you would have the beliefs you do if you hadn’t been raised in a religious environment? Do you think that if children were raised without religion until the age of majority that many would be persuaded by the arguments you cited?

  40. keiths: As for God, he didn’t act. He failed to act, and is culpable for that.

    His failure to act was evil by almost everyone’s standards (including mine).

    And we’re still waiting for your logic that establishes your claims. If the act of the D-O-G is not evil why is G-O-D culpable, and why is G-O-D evil for failing to act against the act of the D-O-G?

    Go back and read the OP, as it is directly relevant to your answer or lack of answer to those questions.

    Also, we now see that this has nothing to do with theistic claims about God. That was a red herring. This has to do, by your own admission, with how you feel about the act and what God ought to have done.

  41. KN,

    I think that the best move here, theologically, is to reject the law of noncontradiction and to say that it is the contradiction that is true. Kierkegaard is right — it is the paradox itself that must be affirmed.

    You’re sounding like Barry Arrington:

    God is powerful enough to combine apparent contradictions in his person. He is three, yet he is only one. He is both immanent and transcendent. He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent; yet despite the evil that exists in the universe he created, he is also omni-benevolent. It never ceases to amaze me that skeptics are surprised when they are unable to fit God into neat human categories. But if we could understand God completely, would we not be gods ourselves? I know I am no god, so I am unsurprised to find that I cannot comprehend God in his fullness or understand fully how such contradictions can be combined in him. Nevertheless, I am quite certain they are.

    This, ironically, from the same guy who insisted that the law of noncontradiction was absolute and inviolate and banned anyone who would not affirm that.

  42. Mung,

    If the act of the D-O-G is not evil why is G-O-D culpable…

    Pay attention, Mung. I’ve already addressed that — twice. Here’s the latest:

    I pointed out that the dog’s morality was irrelevant. We’re talking about G-O-D, not D-O-G.

    Mung:

    …and why is G-O-D evil for failing to act against the act of the D-O-G?

    If you would answer the questions I posed — which you’ve been avoiding for months — I think the light might dawn on you.

    This has to do, by your own admission, with how you feel about the act and what God ought to have done.

    No, it doesn’t. I simply affirmed that

    His failure to act was evil by almost everyone’s standards (including mine).

    Mung:

    Also, we now see that this has nothing to do with theistic claims about God. That was a red herring.

    It has everything to do with theistic claims about God. Did you read my “Frank” example?

    Let’s say I claim that an omniGod named Frank exists — omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Suppose I also claim that Frank regards seahorses as the absolute height of evil. The world contains a lot of seahorses, and Frank, being omnipotent, has the power to wipe them off the face of the earth. Why doesn’t he? Why does he countenance a world full of seahorses?

    Is the existence of seahorses a means to a higher end? Is it just that Frank’s ways are mysterious? Or should I conclude that Frank probably doesn’t exist?

    The problem of evil in that case is due to the theistic claim that Frank regards seahorses as evil. It has nothing to do with whether you or I or the entire population of Bangladesh think seahorses are evil.

  43. Take another look at my questions about the uncle who stands by and does nothing while the dog eats the baby’s head. I’ve added two questions to make the point as obvious as possible

    1. Do you think the uncle in the example above is a loving uncle? Why or why not?

    2. Do you think God approves of the uncle’s behavior? Would he say to the uncle, “Well done, my good and faithful servant?” Or would he regard the uncle’s behavior as immoral?

    3. Do you think God is a perfectly loving God? Why or why not?

    4. If you think, as most people do, that the uncle’s behavior is reprehensible, then why do you approve when God behaves the same way?

    Please be brave and answer the questions, Mung.

    The problem of evil arises here because of the theistic claim that God regards the uncle’s behavior as immoral. If that were true, why would he behave the same way as the uncle?

  44. keiths, you just don’t seem to get it.

    You ask me a bunch of questions. I don’t answer your questions. So what? What follows from that? How does this affect the conclusion of your argument? If it does not affect the conclusion of your argument then what is your point?

    If your argument depends on my answers to your questions, then it isn’t much of an argument. If you are not making an argument, just say so. If you are, then let’s see it. Premises. Conclusion. All that nonsense.

    By the way, I think we’re also still awaiting your argument in the Moral Outrage thread.

  45. I think it’s clear that failure to have answers to every question is not a strong argument against theism.

    Now, does that principle apply to biology?

  46. phoodoo:
    stcordova,

    I am still awaiting your answer to why would anyone do anything in a world with no evil.

    because it’s not evil to want to taste pepperoni pizza (and with no evil there will be no bad consequences from eating it, no indigestion, no heart attack, whatever) but it’s also not evil to decide one wants to taste bacon-pineapple pizza tonight instead. And tomorrow I’ll get up for no-evil mushroom-hamburger pizza. And day after that, I’ll do something completely different: skip the pizza altogether to have hours of fabulous no-evil sex just for fun. So many things to experience and enjoy before I go to heaven! .

    Well, I’m pretty sure nothing would be fun if it lasted for eternity, but for a human life time, I’m certain I could stay motivated to keep doing things just for fun. All the more so if I knew no one would be harmed by them later.

    Why do you think you need the existence of evil to motivate you to do anything?

Leave a Reply