Evil and the Evidence for God

“No argument from evil I am aware of makes it likely or even reasonable to believe there is no God. Evil cannot carry that evidential load. But suppose I’m wrong. Suppose evil is evidence to think God does not exist. Does it follow that it’s reasonable to believe there is no God?

Let’s approach this question by way of analogy. Suppose you learn in your European Culture class today that 95 percent of the French population can’t swim. That statistic is some evidence to think that Pierre, your friend from Paris, can’t swim. Does it follow that you should believe Pierre can’t swim? Of course not. What if you and Pierre spent last Saturday afternoon together swimming and chatting about the fine-tuning argument and Albert Camus’ The Plague? Surely, in that case, it isn’t reasonable for you to believe Pierre can’t swim. Your experience with him is much better evidence to think he can swim even though the statistical evidence by itself makes it very likely that he cannot.

The same goes with evil and God. Even if evil is some evidence that there is no God, you might have much better evidence to think that God exists; in that case, it wouldn’t be reasonable for you to believe there is no God.

This line of thought naturally leads to some weighty questions not the least of which are these: Is the evidence for God significantly better than the evidence that evil provides against God? What sources of evidence are there? How should we balance the evidence for and against theism?”

Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God, Evil, and Suffering” in Reason for the Hope Within edited by Michael J. Murray (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) page 114.

21 replies
  1. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Thanks for the post. I'm not sure that the analogy offered is a good example, i.e., it misses the point of the Argument from Evil. The analogy is about statistical outliers. The Argument from Evil is about logical inconsistency, i.e., how could an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving parent permit such cruelty to his own children. Let’s keep the focus on evils that are not caused by human cruelty, like catastrophic natural disasters and pandemics of horrific infectious diseases.

    If a human parent knowing and willingly neglected his/her children and allowed them to suffer and/or die from an easily preventable problem, that parent would be imprisoned for neglect and/or abuse. Why does God get special pleading? He knows it’s coming; he knows that his own children (including helpless infants, toddlers, disabled, and elderly people) will suffer and die horrible deaths. He could easily prevent enormous amounts of suffering, but chooses not to.

    Any ethical human parent would go to great lengths to protect his/her children from harm. In fact, parents have been known to sacrifice their own lives to save their children. If you respond that as sinners we deserve to suffer, then you are neglecting claim that God is all-loving. Love requires kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. The problem from evil is not a statistical problem, it’s a logical inconsistency.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Bill Williams,

    I think you are right that the problem of evil is at its best when formulated with the purpose of showing that there is a logical inconsistency in the conception of God. However, there are many different ways to formulate the problem of evil and I think we should give grace to the author to highlight the particular problem of evil he wants to address – in this case, the one that tries to show that Atheism is more likely than Theism given the suffering we see in the world.

    On other issues, I’m not sure we should pigeon-hole God with the analogy of an ethical human parent. I agree that it is helpful to think of God in this way, and that the Bible uses such analogies, but when this is over-emphasized we run the risk of thinking God has the limitations of the average human – which he obviously does not.

    For instance, what if a human parent was endowed with the infallible knowledge that a little suffering in the present, say from touching a hot coal beside the fire, will (1) teach their child to avoid touching, whenever possible, things that are glowing hot and to be careful around the fireplace, (2) knows that no lasting ill-effect would occur if such a thing were to happen, and (3) if it were not to happen, greater harm would come to their child that would produce lasting ill-effects.

    Though it may still be painful for that parent to witness, it would be the duty of any responsible and loving parent to allow it to occur. As humans are not endowed with the knowledge of 1 through 3, it is instead the duty of any responsible and loving parent to not permit their child to pluck coals from fires. But as God does have knowledge of 1 through 3, it is not an inconsistency in his loving nature to allow suffering in this world.

    So most of the steam quickly goes out of that problem of evil. To show that it is logically inconsistent, one would have to know; if such a thing were to happen, then lasting ill-effects would occur, and if it were not to happen, then no greater harm would produce lasting ill-effects. Since the proponent of that problem of evil is in no position to know those counter-factuals, most of the steam has evaporated from problem of evil. The problem with the Problem of Evil is its not a problem. There is no demonstrable inconsistency within Christian theism.

    In fact, parents have been known to sacrifice their own lives to save their children.

    I love that. It leads to where God’s love and justice meet – the cross. At the cross we find God; the loving, kind and compassionate one, who takes upon himself our sin and the suffering we deserved. There we find God; the just and holy one, who pays its debt to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.

  3. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Thank you for the response Stuart. I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree.

    The notion that God does us a favor by allowing us to suffer misses an important point. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then he could be kinder and more compassionate and still get the same outcome, i.e., still teach us important lessons. That’s what it means to be all-powerful. He instead ‘chooses’ to be cruel. Take hell for example, or allowing his own son to be tortured and executed. What moral person would choose to ‘unnecessarily’ allow another person to suffer for all eternity, or to be hideously tortured to death?

    Is the all-powerful God bound by outside rules? If he really loves his children, why doesn’t he just change the rules? If I were all-powerful, I would assure that my children learned what they need to learn without forcing them to endure terrible horrors. In other words, I’M NICER THAN YOUR GOD, because I would choose kindness and compassion over suffering. That my friend, is a huge logical inconsistency that cannot be overcome by speculating that we’re just too dumb to understand.

    Your post speculates that suffering is okay as long as no lasting effects occur. Tell that to the person being tortured! Rationalizing such excuses helps believers avoid the psychological discomfort of having to seriously consider that their beliefs may be mistaken – that they’ve been misled into believing things that aren’t true.

    The Argument from Evil is one of many valid arguments that believers ignore and rationalize to keep their beliefs intact – in what psychologists call “belief perseverance.” The combined attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence are incompatible with the cruelties that we witness in our world every day. Logical inconsistencies don’t go away when you put your head in the sand.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Bill Williams,

    The dabate in academia on this problem of evil has largly moved on. For the following reason. See here;

    1) God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent
    2) There is suffering in this world

    If these are supposed to be incompatabl with eachother they will have to be shown to be contradictory. But they are not explicitly contradictory. So therefore you must be saying they are implicitly contradictory. Thus there must be some propositions hidden between the two that would serve to bring out the contradiction.

    You seem to have some intimation of these hidden assumptions, for you say “If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, the he could be kinder and more compassionate and still get the same outcome, i.e., still teach us important lessons.” But your simply not in a position to judge the truth of that counterfactual, or any other counterfactual that would bring out an explicit contradiction between 1 and 2.

    Whatsmore, for the objection to follow, the counterfactuals that would serve to show an explicit contradiction between the two propositions, would have to be necessarily true. So even if there is even one possible mitigating consideration, (such as, for instance, that God has over-riding concerns other than our creaturley comfort) the problem posed is already dead in the water.

    I don’t appreciate being psyco-analysed by strangers, especially when it’s obvious I’m not “holding my head in the sand” avoiding the problem or psychological discomfort. And frankly it’s insulting for you to think I am cut by a knife called “belief perserverance” when weilding that knife equally cuts the one that uses it – you could be inventing problems where there is none in order to preserve your own atheistic beliefs.

    I also don’t appreciate those who unfairly characterise then criticise my arguments. I won’t take the time to point these out as all can see what has gone before, but do try to be more thoughtful and carefull in the future.

  5. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Hi Stuart,

    I didn’t mean to offend, but I understand why you may feel that way – more on that in a moment.

    YOUR RESPONSE
    Saying “the debate in academia on this problem of evil has largely moved on” implies that the problem is not valid, which is wishful thinking. The issue remains unresolved, though clearly many people wish it would move on or pretend that is has.

    On the Argument from Evil, you’ve framed your responses in a clever but ineffectual way, by inappropriately shifting the burden of proof to your critics. Argumentation doesn’t work that way. To see what I mean, let’s use the analogy of a criminal court proceeding.

    A COURTROOM ANALOGY
    When the prosecution makes a positive assertion, e.g., the defendant is guilty (or God is real), they are required to accept the burden of proof by supporting their claim with valid reasons and strong evidence. You clearly don’t have strong evidence, or arguably, any worthy evidence. Rather, your strong beliefs are grounded in the faith that your bible (an old storybook) is accurate. Faith is belief WITHOUT evidence (Hebrews 11:1), which means you have no case. What you have is a deeply held metaphysical opinion.

    Though the defense could reasonably stop there, they further damage your assertions by correctly pointing out that they are contradictory at the very basic level of definition. In logic, the law of non-contradiction states: “If p is true, then not-p can’t be true.” Thus, your claim to have an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving parent (the most forgiving, merciful, and compassionate person to ever exist) who allows most of his own children to be eternally tortured in hell (thereafter, never forgiving , never showing mercy, never showing compassion) is a glaring contradiction (p = not-p). This contradiction would never stand in a courtroom. Rather, the burden would lie on you to prove that your claims are consistent.

    A GLARING ERROR IN YOUR REASONING
    Your clever response to the objection from the defense is to suggest that there are unseen factors that resolve these contradictions. You then demand that THE DEFENSE prove that these unseen factors don’t exist. As I’m sure you know, in informal logic this is called Arguing from Ignorance (that’s not an insult – I’m correctly labeling the error in your reasoning).

    It’s a fallacy to expect your critics to disprove your unproven claims. You’re essentially saying, “You can’t prove I’m wrong, therefore I’m right,” i.e., the defendant is guilty. No competent judge would support that absurd expectation. A lack of evidence proves nothing – nice try though.

    HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY
    In my last post I wasn’t psychoanalyzing you. Belief perseverance is normal and common in human thought, which means we all do it to some extent, some more than others. Here’s why I think it’s probably influencing your reasoning in this debate:

    * THE STRENGTH OF YOUR BELIEF IS DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE STRENGTH OF THE EVIDENCE. In fact, they are way out of balance. Defending an array of unproven (faith-based) assertions often requires extensive mental gymnastics to keep the house of cards from falling. I’m sure you recognize this when debating people from other religions.

    * YOU BEND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF LOGIC AND ARGUMENTATION TO SUIT YOUR NEEDS. Rather than acknowledging the glaring contradictions in your assertions, you speculate how they COULD be consistent, and then assume that your speculations are correct. You then shift the burden of proof to your critics, expecting them to disprove your unproven claims.

    * YOU ARE AN APOLOGIST. Apologetics by its very nature primarily focuses on the defense of existing belief, rather than the objective pursuit of truth, i.e., belief perseverance is a primary motivation.

    * YOU BECAME DEFENSIVE WHEN DIRECTLY CHALLENGED. All rational truth seekers should be open to the possibility that their natural cognitive functioning and subsequent reasoning are flawed. Defensiveness is a cognitive strategy often used to divert attention away from troubling issues.

    These points make it reasonable to conclude that your reasoning is probably influenced by natural thought processes such as cognitive dissonance, resulting in what psychologists call “belief perseverance.” Based on the arguments in your responses, I suspect that the vast majority of cognitive research psychologists would agree with me.

    A CHALLENGE
    You’ve done nothing to overcome the skeptic’s objections related to the Problem of Evil – the problem still stands. Instead, you seem to think that your beliefs should not be held to the same standards as other areas of intellectual discourse, including modern legal proceedings. I’d love to hear why you think your beliefs should get special pleading:

    * Why don’t your strong beliefs require strong evidence?

    * Why don’t your contradictory reasons have to be logically consistent?

    * Why should the burden of proof rest with the skeptic rather than the person making the positive assertion?

    In closing, it may be helpful to remember that claims which can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

  6. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I’m usually not impressed by those who suggest Wikipedia entries as sources for theological reflection. That is a first port of call for those who want summaries, or entry-level arguments and discussion. In this case I think it’s a good recommendation.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hi Bill Williams,

    I didn’t mean to offend

    I wasn’t offended. I just don’t appreciate being accused of things I’m not doing… and sloppy reasoning.

    Saying “the debate in academia on this problem of evil has largely moved on” implies that the problem is not valid, which is wishful thinking. The issue remains unresolved, though clearly many people wish it would move on or pretend that is has.

    Actually, it merely implies that in academia the logical problem of evil, that you have here advocated, has been dragged beneath the waves by a heavy an unsustainable burden of proof, and is therefore now widely admitted by contemporary philosophers, both atheist and agnostic alike, to be solved. (Consequently, this is why the probabilistic problem of evil is now more popular, and why Daniel Howard-Snyder would be responding to it.) That’s why I say the problem is dead. Not because I’m sticking my head in the sand. Because no one has been advocating this problem in professional journals for fifty years.

    Permit me to liberally quote you. By changing the propositions in your own parentheses I will show you how the burden of proof has not shifted.

    When the prosecution makes a positive assertion, e.g., the defendant is guilty (or there is a logical inconsistency in the conception of God), they are required to accept the burden of proof by supporting their claim with valid reasons and strong evidence. You clearly don’t have strong evidence, or arguably, any worthy evidence. . . [or else you would give it.]

    You are right in that insofar as I make a claim that God exists, I bear a burden of proof. (You are wrong in that I have little evidence to support this, or that my faith is grounded solely in the Bible. You mis-read Heb 11:1 by the way.) Insofar as you make the claim that there is a logical inconsistency in the conception of God, you bear the burden of proof to show that.

    You say,

    Your clever response to the objection from the defense is to suggest that there are unseen factors that resolve these contradictions.

    That is incorrect. This is not my response. Just because I didn’t explicate the reasons doesn’t mean those mitigating reasons I spoke of are unknown to Christian theology or at all hidden (though they maybe that). Mine is not an Argument from Ignorance. My response shows you have failed to make your objection.

    Planinga distinguished between what he called a “defense” and a “theodicy.” As he employs the terms, a theodicy aims to provide an account of why God actually permits the evils in the world. By contrast a defense offers no such account but seeks to merely show that atheists have failed to carry their case that evil is incompatible with God’s existence. The advocate of a defense thus seeks merely to undercut the atheist’s case, not to explain why the evils in this world exist. A successful defense will have defeated the atheist’s argument, while still leaving us in the dark as to why God permits evil and suffering in this world.

    J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations, IVP, 2003, pg 538

    You call the law of non-contradiction to your aid, but failed to notice something vital. You say…

    Thus, your claim to have [1] an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving parent (the most forgiving, merciful, and compassionate person to ever exist) who [2] allows most of his own children to be eternally tortured in hell (thereafter, never forgiving , never showing mercy, never showing compassion) is a glaring contradiction (p = not-p). [brackets mine]

    (First, I didn’t make this claim. That is from you. Let me provide you with modified versions of your [1] and [2] that I do hold.

    Before that, let me also point out that this is a Soteriological Problem of Evil. This is no longer using the suffering in this world to prove its point, but suffering in the after-life. So God’s head is no longer on the chopping block here – so to speak. It is the Doctrine of Hell.)

    1) An omni-benevolent, and omnipotent being exists.
    2) Some people go to hell.

    You should know that (2) is not the contradictory of (1). That is, at least not EXPLICITLY so. And certainly not GLARINGLY so. (2) is not the negation of (1) as not-P is the negation of P. What hidden assumptions are you hiding that serve to bring out an explicit contradiction? Once you have given those assumptions, try and prove them necessarily true, because that is what is needed for your objection to fly.

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    BELIEF PERSEVERANCE AND PSYCHOANALYZING

    I did make a mistake in my last comment. When I said “And frankly it’s insulting for you to think I am cut by a knife called ‘belief perserverance’…” I should have made clear that I was not the one who was insulted. Rather it was you being insulted by the very act of you putting forward the idea. Let me try and show you how.

    * THE STRENGTH OF YOUR BELIEF IS DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE STRENGTH OF THE EVIDENCE. In fact, they are way out of balance.

    I’m reminded of the panel discussion with Christopher Hitchens and four apologists in Dallas Texas last year sponsored by Christianity Today. Hitchens was basically slammed and made a complete fool of. His one argument – the Problem of Evil – he admitted did not show an internal inconsistency given the resources of Christian theology. It therefore was effectively declared to not be a problem. Meanwhile, the Christians gave up to at least ten arguments in favour of God’s existence (none of which were “because the Bible says”) which were for the most part ignored, and when attention was drawn to them, were so perfunctorily and inadequately addressed it was ridiculous.

    Such displays show what you accuse my belief of being, is actually the reverse. We discuss regularly on this website some of those arguments (so I will not go into those here), which together show the inadequacy of atheism and its belief to be “disproportionate to the strength of the evidence.”

    * YOU BEND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF LOGIC AND ARGUMENTATION TO SUIT YOUR NEEDS. Rather than acknowledging the glaring contradictions in your assertions, you speculate how they COULD be consistent, and then assume that your speculations are correct. You then shift the burden of proof to your critics, expecting them to disprove your unproven claims.

    If you can find a logical lapse in my reasoning I’d appreciate the feedback. So far there are none apparent. I’ve already addressed the rest of this. In short, you have not shown yet that there is a logical contradiction in my assertions. That is your burden to bear.

    * YOU ARE AN APOLOGIST. Apologetics by its very nature primarily focuses on the defense of existing belief, rather than the objective pursuit of truth, i.e., belief perseverance is a primary motivation.

    Apologist just means “Defender.” You are also an apologist for this Problem of Evil. Are you starting to see how by trying to cut me with the knife of “belief perseverance” it also cuts you?

    * YOU BECAME DEFENSIVE WHEN DIRECTLY CHALLENGED. . .

    So you pose a problem to me and deride me when I try and defend my view? Good one! When I chastise you for your misrepresenting me, or using bad arguments, is this supposed to be evidence in favour of me being un-objective? There’s something wrong there.

    A CHALLENGE . . . . you seem to think that your beliefs should not be held to the same standards as other areas of intellectual discourse, . . . . I’d love to hear why you think your beliefs should get special pleading:

    * Why don’t your strong beliefs require strong evidence? (in other words: Why aren’t you skeptical about your skepticism?)

    * Why don’t your contradictory reasons have to be logically consistent? (I think they do. Why don’t your assertions of contradictions have to be proven?)

    You say…

    In closing, it may be helpful to remember that claims which can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

    Dually noted. Same back at ya.

  9. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Hi Stuart,

    This has been a fascinating dialog. Thank you for taking the time to engage with me.

    HOW TO SHOW THAT CONTRADICTIONS EXIST
    I’m particularly intrigued by your refusal to acknowledge contradictions related to the Problem of Evil. When evaluating someone who is purported to be perfect in every way, demonstrating inconsistencies is quite easy. In the realm of absolute perfection, logically I only need to show one exception to demonstrate the contradiction, which I’ve done in previous posts. It’s not hard to find people who are nicer than the God of the bible – people who would not drown the entire planet, slaughter first born children, or torture untold billions of people for all eternity (along with hundreds of other atrocities recorded in the “Good Book”).

    I just demonstrated a glaring contradiction between an absolute attribute of your God and what we see in the real world. In a courtroom, that’s all I would need. My objection would stand and you (the prosecution) would be required to prove your assertions, yet you continue to deny that responsibility. Your insistence on needing counter-factuals would not fly any better today than the mental gymnastics attempted in the 2005 Dover trial. You’re trying to change the rules to suit your needs – our legal system doesn’t work that way.

    ARE YOU BEING TRUTHFUL?
    In the following paragraph I highlight what appears to be a dishonest attempt to frame the issue to your advantage. I’m hoping that my assumption is incorrect. Please note that I’m not making an explicit accusation. I’m asking for clarification.

    I found it curious that you objected to my statement about God sending MOST of his children to hell as being incorrect, i.e., >50% of all people. Instead, you rewrote it to say that “SOME people go to hell,” i.e., <= 50%. Technically SOME means everything between the absolutes of no one and everyone, but by objecting to my use of the word MOST, you are clearly aiming at something different. I’m confused. Christians are and have always been a minority on this planet. Presumably you think a subset of this Christian minority is destined for hell along with all the non-Christians. That clearly means MOST people go to hell. Please explain why MOST is a more accurate descriptor. If we just look at our world today (the end is coming soon, right?), who are these 3.5 billion people who will be saved, and why? On the surface your edit appears to be a dishonest attempt to make your God look nicer in this debate about benevolence and evil. STRONG VS. WEAK EVIDENCE You said that I’m wrong to suggest that you have “little evidence” to support your God belief. That’s not what I said. I said that you don’t have STRONG evidence. I’m sure you have tons of evidence – the problem is that they are weak forms of evidence, such as subjective personal experience. No amount of weak coffee can be combined to make a strong cup – evidence is no different. The evidence you have for your God is of the same strength as that offered by academically minded believers in Allah or Vishnu. Yet you’re all subjectively certain that your mutually exclusive doctrines are correct. Thanks to the advances of science, we know that evidence varies in strength. For something to count as strong evidence, we must diminish the influence of subjectivity as much as possible. Consider the difference between hearsay testimony vs. DNA fingerprinting. The latter is much more objective, and hence, much more reliable. A BIZARRE CLAIM When I talked about hell to illustrate the problem of evil, rather than suffering in this world, you replied, “So God’s head is no longer on the chopping block here – so to speak. It is the Doctrine of Hell.” Huh? Who created the Doctrine of Hell? Who created hell (or who knowingly created the villain who created hell)? Who delivers MOST of his own children to the boogie man and then turns his back for all eternity? Who’s the all-powerful guy who could change everything but chooses not to? How is God’s head no longer on the chopping block? Talk about mental gymnastics. CONTINUED IN NEXT POST

  10. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    CONTINUED FROM LAST POST

    MISUNDERSTANDING ATHEISM
    You make a common error in saying, “…which together show the inadequacy of atheism and its beliefs to be ‘disproportionate to the strength of the evidence.” Atheism simply means without theism, i.e., a lack of belief. I don’t need evidence in the way you do, because I’m not making extraordinary claims. If I make a positive assertion (or an extraordinary claim), then yes I have to support that assertion.

    You’re describing the situation as though we’re comparing apples to apples. I’m philosophically motivated by the perpetual search for truth – you’re a strong believer trying to defend a large and complex doctrine. Those are very different roles. It’s reasonable for me to question and disbelieve your unproven assertions. I find it strange that you think I need strong evidence to do that.

    It’s erroneous to assume that atheism is a set of beliefs like religion (or that it is a religion). I’m an atheist for the simple reason that no religion has made a strong case to prove the existence of their god(s). This is another classic example of trying to shift the burden of proof on your critics.

    ANOTHER BIZARRE CLAIM
    I think your assertion that I too am an apologist (a “defender”) is absurd. I self identify as an objective truth seeker (trying my best anyway), which necessarily makes me a skeptic. I’m not dogmatically bound to any doctrine or an old storybook. If the evidence so warrants, I’ll change my views in a heartbeat, e.g., if there really is a place of eternal torment, I’d do my best to stay out of it.

    I object to claims that are logically inconsistent, grounded in fallacious reasoning, and/or unsupported by strong evidence. To call me an apologist is absurd. I’m not defending a belief – I’m correctly criticizing your incoherent and unsupported claims. Your constant efforts to turn things back on your critics by saying “you too” is fallacious.

    SUMMARY
    I look forward to your responses, especially related to the percentage of people destined for hell and an explanation of why God is not accountable for the Doctrine of Hell.

    P.S. Stuart, I’m guessing that you are a young earth creationist and believe the entire bible to be literally true? Is that a correct assumption?

    P.S.S. How do I quote previous statements in my comments?

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Bill Williams,

    I’ll try keep this short.

    You seem to mistake an implicit contradiction and an explicit contradiction. Proposition “God is omnibenevolent” and proposition “there is suffering in the world” are not explicitly contradictory. It should be obvious that if the first was given the marker P, then the second should be given the marker Q and not the marker not-P. Now it might be that you could unravel Q in such a way to show Q entails not-P, but you have not done so yet.

    Insofar as you have not articulated the assumptions that lie between (1) and (2) that would serve to bring out an explicit contradiction, you have failed to carry the objection. Since you favour the courtroom analogy, its like the prosecution has pointed their finger at the stand and declared “You are the murder!” But the person on the stand has replied, “Well, you haven’t even shown it was a murder.”

    Regarding your question on the words SOME and MOST. I don’t see why this should be of great concern. As long as SOME go to hell you would apparently have grounds to complain that there is a logical contradiction in the conception of God being both all-loving and all-powerful (When Hell is the evil in question the objection to the conception of God should really be that he is both all-loving and just). I don’t think you can show a logical contradiction either way, but you could go along with SOME just as easily as MOST.

    The reason I say SOME is because it is a more conservative claim. The case for either more or less is entirely speculative – something that we are in no position to judge. Beside which, I think your claim for MORE is on very shaky grounds statistically. Its a case I don’t wish make now, but there are factors other than the one you point out that could severely tilt the balance in favour of more being saved than lost.

    Regarding the Doctrine of Hell being at stake and not the conception of God. You really do need to consider carefully what your are arguing for.

    Your argument is as follows;

    (1) God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
    (2) God sends people to eternal torment in Hell.
    (3) 1 and 2 are glaringly contradictory.
    (4) Therefore, 1 is false.

    (3 is false to begin with – it is neither glaringly contradictory nor plain old contradictory. You must be saying it is implicitly contradictory. In which case you need to unravel the hidden assumptions that would show 1 and 2 to be contradictory. And only then could you possibly get the conclusion in 4.)

    Immediately the problem with your argument is apparent – why can’t 2 be false?

    Since the nature of Hell is less certain than the nature of God, to avoid the conclusion (assuming 3 could be demonstrated) the Christian could adopt the Doctrine of Annihilationism. Though I have not yet been persuaded of this opinion, many Christians have been, in the past as well as today, and have thought of Hell as destruction rather than eternal conscious torment. And this view would totally undermine your entire argument.

    Regarding Strong and Weak evidence. Your analogy of the strength of coffee seems inappropriate. The way knowledge works is more like weight, where many little clues accumulate to make things heavy.

    For something to count as strong evidence, we must diminish the influence of subjectivity as much as possible.

    Daniel Howard-Snyder above provides an example of Pierre as to why this should be considered false. See also Meditations in a Toolshed. Lewis says you can only step outside of one view by stepping into another, with its own set of subjective experiences. And therefore, we shouldn’t brow beat those who see “along” a beam instead of “at.”

    You seem to be under the misapprehension that the only evidence I do have is personal experience, and the Bible. If that is the case, this is woefully inaccurate. You could be forgiven such a view as you are new to commenting on this web-site. But please note, over the years I and others have regularly posted and commented on a whole manner of different arguments for God.

    Regarding your conception of what Atheism is, I have a post on this coming up so so will refrain from speaking on that till then.

    Regarding you being an Apologist as well. Like it or not you are advocating the Logical Problem of Evil, and are making the claim that there is a logical inconsistency in the conception of God. (You are also making the claim that it is more reasonable for you to be a skeptic than it is a believer.) All these make you an apologist for athiesm / skepticism / whatever you are.

    P.S. Stuart, I’m guessing that you are a young earth creationist and believe the entire bible to be literally true? Is that a correct assumption?

    No.

    P.S.S. How do I quote previous statements in my comments?

    Put these tags on the beginning and end of your quote, and use “” instead of the parentheses “(” and “)” in the following illustration…

    (blockquote)your quote text here(/blockquote)

  12. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    P.S.S. How do I quote previous statements in my comments?

    Put these tags on the beginning and end of your quote, and use the "less-than" and "greater-than" sign instead of the parentheses "(" and ")" in the following example…

    (blockquote)your quote text here(/blockquote)

  13. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Hi again,

    DECEPTIVE FRAMING
    “blockquote” Proposition ‘God is omnibenevolent’ and proposition ‘there is suffering in the world’ are not explicitly contradictory.“/blockquote”
    There are multiple premises in this argument, not just two. Also, you’re framing your objections in a way that protects your beliefs. You’ve conveniently ignored my more troubling assertions, thereby violating the Principle of Charity in argumentation. If you want to stick with just two premises, why didn’t you respond to my previous example, which nicely illustrates the problem?

    God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
    God tortures his own children for all eternity

    These propositions are explicitly contradictory. Play all the rhetorical games you like. In a court of law, you would have the burden to prove that they’re not.

    PRECISION IS IMPORTANT
    “blockquote” Regarding your question on the words SOME and MOST. I don’t see why this should be of great concern. “/blockquote”
    If it’s not a concern, then why did you change it? MOST is the more precise and truthful term. You’re avoiding it because the truth sounds bad.

    Let’s first look to the bible to understand why MOST is the more precise choice. The 1st Commandment is clear, and is supported by the heinous slaughter of untold thousands of men, women, children, and animals for being associated with the wrong God. Then there’s the loving Jesus, who in the New Testament essential says, worship me, or I’ll torture you forever. I could say more, but this is plenty.

    Your claim that I’m on statistically shaky grounds is utter nonsense, especially since you clearly believe that hell exists and is a place of eternal torment. There are roughly 2 billion Christians in the world (~1 in 3 people). Catholic and Protestant dogmas tend to claim exclusive access to heaven (liberal believers often disagree). That brings us to 1 in 6 who will be saved. Christian sects are notorious for being mutually-exclusive, claiming that believers in other Christian sects will burn. Thus, sectarian infighting further reduces this percentage. According to the bible and 2,000 years of Christian teaching, most people go to hell.

    Even if SOME was a more accurate term, let’s remember that the pricks of the inquisitions didn’t torture MOST people. Torturing anyone on theological grounds is utterly horrible and is behavior unbecoming of an all-loving person. Playing with words doesn’t change this blatant contradiction.

    Yes, I know that some believers re-interpret scripture to rationalize away the concept of hell. It’s a great example of belief perseverance.

    PUTTING WORDS IN MY MOUTH
    “blockquote” Your argument is as follows;

    (1) God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
    (2) God sends people to eternal torment in Hell.
    (3) 1 and 2 are glaringly contradictory.
    (4) Therefore, 1 is false. “/blockquote”
    I’ve never said that the Problem of Evil conclusively disproves the existence of God. I’ve only tried (in vain) to convince you to acknowledge the contradictions. This is another example where you re-frame issues in a way that allows you to keep your beliefs intact.

    As you well know, to acknowledge glaring contradictions in Christian dogma would be terribly embarrassing, and would ethically require one to seriously question other Christian claims and related evidence. Look too close, and the house of cards falls. Suddenly, you’re an atheist!

    The human brain is structured to defend strongly held beliefs. Internally, you’re doing a great job.

    CONTINUED IN NEXT POST

  14. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    CONTINUED FROM LAST POST

    WEAK EVIDENCE IS WEAK EVIDENCE
    I’m not surprised that you would argue that lots of weak evidence can add up to strong evidence. That’s a standard claim of people with weak evidence, such as believers in other religions and various mystical and pseudo-scientific belief systems. The discipline of science has clearly demonstrated the folly of trusting weak evidence. THAT evidence speaks for itself.

    Thank you for acknowledging that your individual lines of evidence are weak. That’s good enough for me.

    CONCLUSION
    Stuart, you’re making an extraordinary effort to avoid admitting contradictions in Christian dogma. This is of course consistent with the belief defending nature of apologetics. I strongly disagree with your “you too” claim about me being an apologist. As previously noted, I’m only criticizing your irrational, contradictory, and unproven claims. That’s not the same thing as defending a belief system.

    To say that I’m advocating the Problem of Evil is bizarre. I am simply objecting to your contradictory claims. That doesn’t make me an apologist.

    Atheism is the default position for all humans. We’re all born atheists and remain that way until someone indoctrinates us, or we somehow adopt a religious belief later in life. If religious claims are unconvincing, then a person necessarily remains an atheist or reverts back to atheism (the true meaning of born-again). You’re pretending that I’m an apologist defending some non-existent atheist dogma. Your case is unconvincing and unproven, so I’m necessarily a non-believer – plain and simple.

    Were you to philosophically embrace the perpetual pursuit of truth as a primary motivation, you would be forced to seriously consider the contradictions in your dogma. As fallible humans, we should all willing admit that we could be mistaken, especially when the evidence is admittedly weak. The mental gymnastics that you’ve demonstrated in this debate are inconsistent with that more humble mindset.

    I feel that we have reached a point where we are repeating ourselves. I’d like to suggest that we stop here. If you want to respond one more time, I’d be happy to consider your thoughts.

    Thank you again for the intellectually stimulating debate. Best wishes.

  15. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    While researching various views on "conscience," I read "Jung on Evil" (Princeton University Press 1995). He offers an unimpassioned view of evil which is totally dependent on humans.

    The editor, Murray Stein, writes: When humans adopt a more disinterested viewpoint, they transcend the categories of good and evil to an extent and view human life, human behavior and human motivation from a vertex that sees it all as "just so." Human beings love each other and we hate each other. We sacrifice for each other and destroy each other. We are noble and base. And all of this belongs to human nature. The judgments we make about good and evil are bound to be biased by our own interests and tilted if favor of our pet tendencies and traits.

    In my e-book athttp://www.suprarational.org I wrote a short paragraph:
    Evil and deliverance. Many orthodox religions personify evil as Satan, the Devil, Iblis, Mara, or other demonic forces. Most mystics hold us responsible for our own evils, not an external source. Some say that evil exists only in rejection or lack of awareness of good, or to balance good in the apparent dualities of this life…not in unitive eternal life. Mystics have to eliminate personal wrongs to realize divine oneness. Deliverance comes by overcoming the selfishness of our egos, ignorance of our minds and stubbornness of our senses.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill Williams,

    God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
    God tortures his own children for all eternity

    These propositions are explicitly contradictory. Play all the rhetorical games you like. In a court of law, you would have the burden to prove that they’re not.

    Indeed these are not explicitly contradictory propositions (and any half-backed logician could see that). Presumably you are saying that courts of law accept implicit contradictions prima facie. Notice we are not in a court if law. We’re participating on a blog on Theology and Philosophy of Religion where that’s not par for the course.

    You say you have an argument with more than 2 premises – but I haven’t seen any explicated. Perhaps you should do that. I have been responding directly to the arguments you have made. In response to the one above (which looks just like all the rest), many Christians have denied premise 2 finding that denial to be Biblically unproblematic. For myself, I’m not sure Annihilationism is correct, but find no need to deny premise 2 (though there is just cause to complain about your use of emotionally-loaded language) as the hidden assumptions that would make those two propositions explicitly contradictory are by no means demonstrable as necessary truths (and even probably false given certain other Christian doctrines).

    It sounds very much like you are co-opting the Principle of Charity to get me to make your case for you. Well, I just don’t feel the obligation to make your atheistic arguments just to refute it in the next breath.

    I think if incoherence in a concept of God can be demonstrated, that concept of God is false. So you are in some sense trying to disprove the existence of God. That is what the Problem of Evil is generally used for. I think it is astute of you to recognise that showing an incoherent aspect in the concept of God doesn’t mean that a god cannot exist, only that our concept of God would have to change. But you haven’t yet demonstrated any incoherence; so thus far, in this conversation at least, there’s no problem.

    I don’t know why you get hooked up on the words SOME and MOST. For one, “most” entails “some.” Second, with “some” you can still make your case. So it’s not of great concern to you. I just think a case could be made that would show “not most” – thus my use of the word “some” – when all things are tallied, would be lost to hell. But so far as I’m concerned that’s off topic.

    No, I never said my evidence for God was weak. My case for God is composed of many “little” but nevertheless strong arguments, that together make beleif in God more rational than its contradictory or no belief. My case for God’s existence is off topic as well.

    After making vacuous arguments I agree thay you’re not much of an apologist. But like it or not, you are still making a positive assertion (that the concept of an all-loving and all-powerful being is incoherent) and have failed to provide convincing philosophical justification. Indeed, I do not think it even possible.

  17. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    I frequently get involved in blog discussions between secular and religious opinions. Each is convinced that they are right and the other is wrong, as though there are only two sides to the subject. There is, usually, an alternate perspective of mystics. Most secular people dismiss mysticism is nonsense (it is non-sensory) while those who are religious think it heretical (it seldom conforms to doctrine). Another quote:

    Avidya, literally non-knowledge in Sanskrit, is used in Buddhism for our “spiritual ignorance” of the true nature of Reality. Bila kaifa, literally without knowing how in Arabic, is Islam’s term for “without comparison” to describe Allah. Ein Sof, literally without end in Hebrew, is the “infinite beyond description” in the Kabbalah. Neti, neti, literally not this, not this in Sanskrit, refers to “unreality of appearances” to define Brahman. In via negativa, the literal way of negation in Latin, God is “not open to observation or description.”

    The divine does not have the imperfections or dichotomies which affect we humans in apparent realities: no gender, beyond relative good and evil [sic], neither human nor non-human, not this, that or any other. The Bible says we were created in the image of God [sic], which is true, yet incomplete. All existence emanated in the spiritual image of the divine. The divine is not anthropomorphic, i.e. does not have human qualities, still it is present in all people through its essence. Humans are most capable of consciously sharing in that essence.

  18. Oracle
    Oracle says:

    A most intriguing game of polemical Cat and Mouse by both Bill and Stuart, with neither prepared to give ground and concede to each other. As a perhaps more theologically liberal follower of Christ compared to Stuart I will give my response to some of Bills issues he raises.

    One can get from scripture various concepts of God that the writers of the various books in the Bible tried to convey about God. The all-loving, all-benevolent, all-powerful concepts of God are definitions we humans can understand God to be. The all-loving God is a concept John in the New Testament eludes to several times in his epistle, stating God is Love. The merciful all-benevolent is probably themed in Psalms and permeates much of Paul's theology as well as other NT writers, and the all powerful again begins in the creation story of Genesis 1 and finishes in Revelation 22 with God as the Alpha and Omega. However Isaiah raises the idea that God is both the author of Good and Evil, and that God creates Evil.

  19. Oracle
    Oracle says:

    Regarding Bill's raising the question of most going to Hell, it is found in many times in the 4 gospels, such as Wide is the Gate and Way that lead to destruction and MANY go that way, but narrow is the Gate and Way that lead to life and FEW find it. In John 3 we read that if we believe in Jesus we are saved, and if we don't we are damned. As Bill rightly says, most don't believe, therefore the assumption is that most are damned. Whether that damnation is to Hell for eternity, thats a theological position which one can find scriptures to say yes, and others to contradict this view.

  20. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Thanks Oracle,

    Who was the mouse? Of course I wouldn’t concede to someone who refuses to make their case, and who when they did would be wrong. I did give plenty of space for his to make his case, but he could not.

    However Isaiah raises the idea that God is both the author of Good and Evil, and that God creates Evil.

    This is a misreading of that passage. God being the cause of the Hebrew word ‘ra, should not be read as ethical evil, but instead, physical calamity, distress or adversity. A simple comparative analysis of English translations will give you that, as will the context.

    I agree with your analysis on the Wide and Narrow gates, and that most people who have up till now lived full lives, pass through the Wide to destruction. But Bill was making the universal judgement that MOST of all people pass through the Wide gate, and that simply is not within his capacity to know. Consider all the people that do not live full lives, but pass away before the age of accountability. Consider all those who are aborted or miscarried. One can still believe that few find the Narrow Gate without being a Universalist or Inclusivist with respect to salvation, and still have grounds to believe that not-most will perish in Hell.

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