Monday, November 14, 2005

The Problem of Evil and Saving the Appearances

The problem of evil is a very powerful atheist argument.

There is suffering. Some of this suffering can be reduced. For example, if somebody is ill, curing that person will reduce his suffering.

People try to reduce the suffering of the people they love, and sometimes they can do that.

God loves us. Therefore, God will also try to reduce our suffering, and He can do even more than people can do.

Therefore, if there is suffering which can be reduced, and we can see that it is not reduced, we can conclude there is no omnipotent being who wants to reduce our suffering.

Perhaps a Biblical example will help. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a man is attacked and suffers. A priest and a Levite pass by on the other side, and do nothing to help his suffering. However, a Samaritan does not pass by on the other side. He helps the attacked man.

Can we conclude that the priest and the Levite were not omnibenevolent? That is indeed one of the morals of the story.

In the same way, if one of our children is stricken with leukemia, doctors and nurses will not pass by on the other side. The parents will not pass by on the other side. They will be grief-stricken and do all they can to get their child cured. Only God passes by on the other side. The child will either live or die, but only the earthly father will arrange hospital and surgery visits in the hope of a cure.

The Heavenly Father will not cure the child , although it would be the work of a moment for Him to do so. Perhaps this is because there is no Heavenly Father , who loves the child more than even the earthly father does, and who wants the child to be cured more than even the earthly father does.

In his book, ‘The Miracle of Theism’, JL Mackie allowed that there might be some evils which a god could allow, just as we allow the minor unpleasantness of a visit to the dentist to avoid much worse suffering later.

Mackie called these evils ‘absorbed evils’ because they lead to a greater good.

However many evils do not lead to a greater good and indeed lead to greater evil. If there is famine and drought, people will fight each other for the remaining resources. If an all-loving God wanted to prevent war, a good start would be to abolish famine and drought.

Mackie held that in the face of these gratuitous evils, it was positively irrational to believe in a powerful God who loved us so much he would move Heaven and Earth to spare us unnecessary suffering.

This is called ’The Logical Problem of Evil’, and is a very strong argument. It is at least as strong as the claim that it is irrational to believe that everybody except you has only one leg, because your memory and senses tell you that almost everybody has two legs.

It is such a strong argument that Christians have had to go to extraordinary lengths to ‘save the appearances’ - to try to claim that despite appearances, there really is an all-loving, all-powerful God.

‘Saving the appearances’ refers to what happened before it was established that the Earth went around the Sun. On the theory that all revolves around the Earth, Venus and Mercury appear to behave incorrectly. ‘Saving the appearances’ was the name given to extensions of the Earth-as-centre theory, so that despite appearances to the contrary, it could still be believed that the Earth was the centre of the Universe.

‘Saving the appearances’ is a desperate measure to shore up beliefs. Professor Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame University has come up with a theory to save the appearances.

In fact , the defense used by theists to save the appearances is so extreme that it can be used to defend ‘unipedalism’ - the belief that , despite appearances to the contrary, everybody except me has one leg.

I asked a Christian Professor of Philosophy, Professor Greg Welty, if Alvin Plantinga’s method could be used to show that believing in one-legged people was logically consistent, as logically consistent as believing in an all-powerful, all-loving God who allows millions of people to die painful deaths.

Professor. Welty said - 'Surely 'unipedalism' *is* 'logically consistent'.

Professor Welty wrote to me the following :-

(I quote him)

As far as I can tell, you presented the following two statements in your earlier email:

[1] Everybody except me has one leg.

[3] My memory is that almost everybody has two legs.

You then raised the issue as to whether [1] and [3] are consistent. I think it's obvious that they are. Surely it's possible for most people to have one leg *and* that my memory is inaccurate in this regard. For those who want a formal proof of the consistency of [1] and [3], we could find a possibly true proposition that is consistent with [1] and together with [1] entails [3]. In your last email, you helpfully provided such a proposition:

[2] My memory has been corrupted by demons.

OK, then. You've applied Plantinga's procedure as a means of proving that [1] and [3] are consistent. But then, with the above example, you are illustrating for us the *cogency* of Plantinga's procedure! You are not undermining it!

End of Professor Welty’s remarks.

I think logic which can be used to show both that evil is consistent with God and also that we can believe people only have one leg is not logic you can sell to the general public (with the granted exception of Long John Silver)

Plaantinga’s defense is clearly only aimed at ‘saving the appearances’ - so that he can claim, despite all appearances to the contrary, the existence of an all-loving God is compatible with horrific suffering.

Even if Plantinga has succeeded , he has done no more than people did when they wanted to show that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe, despite all appearances to the contrary.

In my next 3 blog entries, I try to show why even Plantinga’s appearance-saving defense is dubious.

11 Comments:

Blogger Heathen Dan said...

As I understand it, the Logical Argument from Evil's (LAE) form has been shown to be invalid because of Alvin Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD). Even if Plantinga's defense has been shown to be false with regards to our world (that is, it does not obtain in our world), his objects still stands, because it still points out that the conclusion from LAE does not follow from the premises.

I can't, for the life of me, remember where I read that from, but it does seem, prima facie, to be adequate a response to LAE. Which is why, post-JL Mackie, philosophers have been using an alternative formulation called the Evidential Argument from Evil (EAE), popularized by William Rowe.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

It has been shown to be 'invalid' to exactly the same extent that it is 'invalid' to conclude that because your memory and senses tell you that people have two legs, then people really do have two legs.

Plantinga's defense can be used to invalidate the logical problem of legs, as well as the logical problem of evil.

You claim Planinga's defense is false ie not factually true.


The idea that Christians can use false defenses to shore up their beliefs is rather disturbing, no?

I don't know of any atheist defenses which are admitted by atheists to be definitely false.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Grano1 said...

In his recent book "The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?" Orthodox theologian/philosopher David B. Hart demonstrates the fallacy of Mackie's argument, by asserting, among other things, that the God that Mackie posits is a faulty construct based upon shaky assumptions about what Christians actually believe about God. No one actually worships this version of God; "Where are his temples?" Hart asks.

It has long been a claim of Eastern Christian theology that the Christian God is not the god of the philosophers; one may reason one's way to the existence of a deity, but the nature of that deity can only be known by revelation. See the blog called "Energies of the Trinity" for more on this subject.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Nobody believes in a god who would save a baby being snatched from its mother's grasp by the force of a tidal wave?

2:13 PM  
Blogger Grano1 said...

No, what Hart is saying is that no one actually worships a general, all-purpose deity who fits neatly into Mackie's categories -- "he can but he won't" or "he wants to but he can't." Theists are often accused of anthropomorphising God, but Hart argues that Mackie's dilemma is anthropomorphic in the extreme. Read his book--it's definitely not your typical theodicy, since it comes from Eastern Orthodox, rather than Catholic or Protestant ideas about the nature of God.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Edward N. Haas said...

I just stumbled this day, 2/18/10, on your blog, Mr. Carr. Scanning it quickly, it strikes me as an attempt to describe the thesis which says that human suffering proves that there can be no such thing as truly loving and good God. Assuming that's the objective of the blog at hand and that the objective is one you support, I would suggest this: Your thesis "holds water" only as long as one has too deficient a grasp of what "omnibenevolent" means when applied to an INFINITELY informed God, which is to say That One Intelligent Being able to foresee with perfect certitude and in perfect detail EVERY future consequence (whether actual or possible)which can or shall EVER result from our choices from our very beginning and on into the ultimited future. Needless to say, we cannot begin to have such a view of the future. With our puny brains and minds, we can foresee no more than an astronomically tiny fraction of the future consequences of our choces and actions and, as for what little we can foresee, we can only foresee it with the fearfulness characteristic of prudence rather than with the fearlessness characteristic of certitude. Of necessity, that means only Infinitely Informed God can be so omnibenevolent as to foresee, far, far in the future, and to guarantee the occurrence of, a consequence which even we will, in that far distant future, then agree converts all this world's suffering into what you quoted J. L. Mackie as labelling an "absorbed evil", which is to say a pain and suffering which saves us from the pain of a far greater loss somewhere in that future so distant,only The Infinitely Informed Omnibenevolent can both forsee it and guarantee that it shall never befall us. Indeed, that far distant, potential loss which The Infinitely Informed Omnibenevolent forsees and obviates is so repugnant to all, that even an eternity in hell is preferable to enduring that loss. This is 73 year old Edward N. Haas; 39193 Haas Road - Haaswood; Pearl River, La. htoknow@yahoo.com and author of 18 self-published books in print.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Thanks for that.

I shall try to remember that God allowed all those people in Haiti to die to save them from an even greater disaster.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Edward N. Haas said...

You seem to be saying that, if your FINITELY informed mind cannot foresee it, then neither can the INFINITELY informed possibly forsee the deaths of the Haiti victims as saving those victims from an even greater disaster in the far future, which is to say a future so far from now, it involves a world beyond this one. How soundly logical of you to insist you are no less informed about the post-mortem future than is THE INFINITELY INFORMED! Imagine that: Steven Carr is GOD and, as God, knows with absolute certitude that we must judge solely in the terms of disasters one can foresee in THIS world.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Edward N. Haas said...

Pardon me, my Lord Carr, if I dare to disagree with you and to hold that a God Who is TRULY OMNIbenevolent would be far, far more concerned with the disasters which threaten us on the other side of the grave than with those which theaten us on this side. For, even if this life lasts for 120 years, it is but a blink of an eye compared to that life beyond the grave which shall go on forever and ever and ever and ever, and the disasters which threaten us for this world's blink of an eye are nothing in comparison with those which shall, in the next life, threaten us for trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of eons and then some. Your concept, sir, of a truly omnibenevolent God is more shortsighted and crippled than either the finite mouth can describe or the finite mind comprehend. Your concept is so blind, it is, in the end, merely an example of exceedingly vicious buffoonery. Yes "The Logical Problem Of Evil" so dear to you is indeed a very strong argument, but only in the eyes of those as incredibly blind to the far distant future as you are.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

So I am 'blind'?

Gosh, no wonder God torments blind people for eternity. They are blind, so deserve no pity from an omnibenevolent God, who will perform no acts of benevolence to them.

Same with the Jews that Jesus called 'blind fools'.

If you think what Hitler did to the Jews was bad, wait until they fall into the hands of Jesus.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Edward N. Haas said...

Yes, you are STUPEFYINGLY blind. For, only such people believe that, as you say, "God torments blind people for eternity." Perhaps the most important and fundamental dogma in all of Catholic teaching is that God is a SINGLE, unchanging act without beginning or end. On the face of it, that means there is no such thing as God acting one way toward a saint and a different way toward a sinner. How, then, is there a hell and eternal torment? Hell is not a place of torture into which a vindictive God thrusts God's enemies in order to get even with them. On the contrary, hell is a place of refuge for those who, like yourself, are so vehemently and intractably opposed to admitting that God is love, they insist on a place where they can be absolutely certain their astronomically ferocious hatred for God shall NEVER diminish one iota. Because, in death's all-revealing light, they shall see with absolute certitude that hell is the only place able to guarantee them that, they most voluntarily hurl themselves into hell with all the gusto they can ever possibly muster. Scripture is redolent with passages in which we are told that God desires not the death of the sinner but rather that all should be saved, and Catholic doctrine repeatedly assures us that eternal damnation is merely the natural result of sin and is to no extent a punishment inflicted from outside the sinner by a vengeful God. Unfortunately, Catholic doctrine all too often addresses children and adults with pathetically childish minds, and such intellectual cretins always manage to turn Catholic teaching inside out no matter how clearly it expresses itself. Regardless, though, of how madly such mental midgets distort Catholic teaching, God IS An Infinite Act Of Divine Love incessantly offering to every soul in hell the same one act of unlimited benevolence which God offers to the greatest of angels and saints. For that act to get thru to them, all they have to do is to turn away from their hatred for God and toward love for God. As it has often been said by many sources of Catholic teaching, a single tear on the part of a damned soul would instantly deliver it from hell. For every soul in hell, though, its hatred for God is so great, there is not the slightest possibility it could ever do even so little as SPECULATE maybe it should regret its hatred for God, should feel sorry for its hatred for God, and should turn, instead, to love for God. Because God truly is omnibenevolent, God will not FORCE them to change. If one wants an example of how the souls in hell can remain there no matter what, one has but to look at the insanely obstinate and irrational manner in which you cling to your farcical argument and call it "a very strong argument". That you do no matter how obvious it is that your "very strong argument" IS merely a farce. Basically, you start off saying: "Since there is no God, there can be no post-mortem world and, therefore, no such thing as disasters in this world which save us from even greater disasters in the next world." Then you basically add: "We know there is no God because a truly omnibenevolent God would be solely concerned with saving us from the disasters threatening us this side of the grave, and that God would do, because we've already proven there is no such thing as a post-mortem world." For you, there is no post-mortem world or post-mortem threat of disaster because there is no God, and then there is no God because, with no post-mortem disasters to threaten us, a truly loving God would be solely concerned with saving us from disasters this side of the grave. It's commonly called arguing in a circle. You, though, cannot begin to see it, because, as I most accurately said, you are stupefyingly blind. And why are you such? It's because you are in the grip of a hatred for God so ferocious, irrational, and intractable, you cannot even begin to see straight.

3:36 AM  

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