Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Does Evil Disprove Atheism?


Frank Turek presents a response to the Problem of Evil that attempts to turn the issue around, and make it an argument against atheism rather than an argument against God.  As you know, the Problem of Evil (POE) argues that the existence of evil in our world is logically inconsistent with the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence that are usually attributed to God.  Therefore God (if he exists) cannot have all three of those attributes, given the existence of evil.  The POE does not prove the non-existence of God, but it does present a strong logical argument that God cannot be what most Christians claim he is.  Most atheists find this argument quite compelling.  Theists, on the other hand, tend to explain away evil as something that God has no control over, not because he isn't omnipotent, but for other reasons that typically involve the free will of man.  I don't think Plantinga or any other religious philosopher has made a rebuttal th the argument that truly addresses the issue in a satisfying way.  That's why it is generally considered to be one of the most formidable arguments against God.  And that's why some theists, like Turek, prefer to duck the problem altogether.

Turek's approach is to claim that the very existence of evil is proof, in its own right, that God exists.  This is a line of reasoning that I've heard before, but to him, it seems like a novel approach to the problem, and has the added advantage of turning the tables against atheists by using their strongest argument against them.  The idea is that evil is a privation of good, and as such, it can't exist without good.  But since good is a manifestation of God’s nature, then neither good nor evil could exist without God.  As Turek puts it:
there can be no objective good unless God’s objectively Good nature exists - Turek
But this thinking is both circular and rather shallow, as I will explain.  Turek doesn't present his argument in the form of a syllogism, but I think I can do that for him:
1 God's nature is good.
2 Good does not exist without God.
3 Evil does not exist without good.
4 If evil exists, then good exists
5 Evil exists.
6 Therefore, good exists.
7 Therefore, God exists.
It is plain to see that Turek presupposes God in his argument.  By defining God and good in this manner, he makes them mutually dependent.  Since God's nature is 'Good', God doesn't exist without good, and good doesn't exist without God.  He never asks the question Could good exist without God?  If that were the case, then it would be possible for evil to exist without God.  But since Turek doesn't allow for that possibility, he is begging the question.  He has essentially defined God into existence by equating God with good.

But this raises the question What do we really mean by 'good' and 'evil'?  If Turek expects that everyone will agree to his definitions that presuppose God, he is mistaken.  Obviously, when an atheist presents his POE, he does not intend to presuppose the existence of God.  He must have something else in mind.  And that is in fact the case.  First, I think it's important to distinguish between 'evil' and 'bad', because that is the source of much equivocation.

The IEP article on the POE introduces the problem by posing the question "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good, why does he let so many bad things happen?"  This question doesn't use the word 'evil'.  We usually think of good and bad as being contrasting measures. They are value judgments that we regard as attributes of something.  (As in I had a good meal, or He is a bad actor.)  They are entirely subjective.  Good is what we like, and bad is what we don't like.  If we like something, we attach the attribute of goodness to it.  Good and bad aren't objects that exist in their own right.  And they are relative to each other, like hot and cold.  Something that is less good is bad by comparison, and there is no distinct dividing line between them.

The word 'evil' is often used as a synonym for bad, as we see in the IEP article.  It's talking about the existence of bad things, but the argument is labeled the "Problem of Evil".  But the word 'evil' carries additional baggage, because it is associated with morality.  Something can be called bad without being called evil, which would typically imply an immoral or wicked intent.

If we associate evil with morality, then we can say that it is entirely possible for the world to exist without any evil in it.  Before the evolution of man, there were only animals, who are presumably devoid of morality.  Therefore, there was no evil in the world until there was man.  And this comports with Plantinga's explanation of the existence of evil as being the product of man's free will.  But before man, there was plenty of pain and suffering.  And you can say that's bad, but it is more difficult to make the case that it's evil, if no moral actor is involved.

Regardless of any value judgment we might make about the existence of pain and suffering, whether we think it's good or bad, it is objectively true that pain and suffering exist, and there is nothing in these terms that presupposes the existence of God.  For that reason, I prefer to avoid the issue of linking evil to God's existence by couching the argument in terms of 'pain and suffering' instead of 'evil'.  If the POE is restated as the Problem Of Suffering (or POS), it loses none of its strength or validity, but it gains from depriving theists of their ability evade the issue at the heart of the argument by making question-begging claims like "evil disproves atheism!"  It isn't so easy for them to claim that there can be no pain and suffering without God.

Aside from the fact that I would never accept Turek's question-begging argument that is based on a blatantly theistic presumption, the fact still remains that he hasn't answered the argument posed in the POE.  He has merely evaded the question.  And if we consider the issue as the POS rather than the POE, it becomes clear that even Plantinga, whose Free Will Defense is also dependent on a definition of evil in terms of human morality, completely fails to answer the existence of God's omni- qualities in light of the existence of pain and suffering.  And the same can be said of other rebuttals of the POE.  I can say that I have never heard a satisfactory rebuttal to it. 

Turek thinks he has an easy defeater for the POE, but his answer is not even a rebuttal.  It is rather vapid.  It completely avoids the problem.  And it certainly doesn't disprove atheism.

20 comments:

  1. I think, your problem here is, you'll have to show (for a start) why there is an inconsistency between beings that suffer and an omnibenevolent (perfectly moral) God but without making use of the idea that it's "immoral" for living beings to needlessly suffer and feel pain?

    Otherwise, there is seems an equation needed between your PoP (problem of pain) and the classic PoE in the end anyway, if you are trying to show a logical contradiction?

    But the whole question here is also related to the different PoE's too, right. The "logical" vs "evidential" varieties as described in the linked IEP article?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you'll have to show (for a start) why there is an inconsistency between beings that suffer and an omnibenevolent (perfectly moral) God but without making use of the idea that it's "immoral" for living beings to needlessly suffer and feel pain?
      - Omni-benevolent does not need to be defined in terms of morality. "Philosophers and theologians more commonly use phrases like "perfectly good",[5] or simply the term "benevolence". The word "omnibenevolence" may be interpreted to mean perfectly just, all-loving, fully merciful, or any number of other qualities, depending on precisely how "good" is understood." - Wiki. God is supposed to be good. He wouldn't cause all that suffering needlessly. That's what it means.


      Otherwise, there is seems an equation needed between your PoP (problem of pain) and the classic PoE in the end anyway, if you are trying to show a logical contradiction?
      - Why do I need to define an equation to relate one to the other? It's the same problem. If we speak in terms of suffering instead of evil, we simply eliminate the ability of theists to make ridiculous claims like "You can't talk about 'evil' because you're an atheist". So OK. Let's just talk about suffering instead. The problem does not go away.


      But the whole question here is also related to the different PoE's too, right. The "logical" vs "evidential" varieties as described in the linked IEP article?
      - I'm not trying to overly complicate the issue (even if you are). My discussion is about the logical problem, and nothing more.

      Delete
    2. Well....


      there can be no objective good unless God’s objectively Good nature exists - Turek


      I'm not sure how you work "objectively good" in any other than moral terms as far as this argument goes, at least.

      .... "objectively pleasant " doesn't seem to make a lot of sense?

      ... & "objectively benevolent" would seem to be already covered, along with some other concerns, by the moral sense of "good"?

      Delete
    3. I think many would consider morality to be an important part of "goodness". But that still doesn't pin down what is really meant by it. If morality entails something other than what is in the best interest of humans, what exactly is goodness? Most people would assume that God's goodness entails a concern for what happens to us, as explained inn the SEP article on perfect goodness:

      "it seems clear that the sort of moral goodness that is typically ascribed to the perfect being is moral goodness of a familiar, welfare-oriented kind. In particular, it is assumed that morally good beings treat the welfare of humans and at least some other sentient beings as practically relevant considerations"

      But there are problems with ascribing morality to God. If God's nature is goodness, then it would seem that he has no choice in the matter. If he is acting in accordance with his nature, his behavior is controlled by that nature rather than any moral choice. Interestingly, this is exactly what deniers of free will say about the behavior of humans. Atheists also point out other logical incoherencies in the idea of God as a moral agent.

      And not all theists agree that God is a moral actor, either. Like Thomists, for example.

      In the end, it's an open question, but we can probably agree that God's goodness means at least that he should act for the well-being of us humans.

      Delete
    4. I think moral choices may be more open than that. It's only conjecture that there's a perfect moral calculus (somewhere) which would allow someone with sufficient knowledge of it to always choose the "right" choice deductively and never be caught between any competing moral values. Ie that some "moral" choices (those involving competing "goods") could really be existential choices....

      I also think, while your point isn't without merit, for many, "goodness" in the sense of benevolence like that is ultimately superseded by moral goodness. Even for humans - hell, even among atheists - there could still be more important moral values than human well being on any scale. We might imagine a sci-fi scenario, like, say, someone discovering that in a couple millennia humanity was destined to become a scourge of the universe and wipe out sentient life from thousands of galaxies, where many of us would feel mthat, instead, we would be better off to become extinct.....

      Delete
    5. there could still be more important moral values than human well being on any scale.

      - Unless you believe, as most Christians do (I think) that man is the "crown of creation", and the whole world was made for our benefit to begin with.

      Delete
    6. Both that and what I said could be simultaneously true. Humans could be the crown (so to speak) and yet there could be moral issues that would supersede even that status were we to become corrupt enough.

      Nor would that be an unbiblical perspective ....

      Delete
    7. Yeah. It kind of seems that an omnipotent God would be able to make people with free and still would turn out to be a little better behaved. And with his omniscience, he surely should know how to do that. Maybe he just doesn't love us.

      Delete
    8. Well, theres the PoE again, in brief, and Platinga wrote a whole influential book about that one comment of yours, as discussed in the IEP article you linked ;-)

      I think the whole idea that God "cares about us" probably need to be qualified. There may be aspects of us that God cares about (like our "souls") moreso than our bodies, which seem to be made quite vulnerable and fragile, subject not just to mortality but to every kind of intermittent problem too, yeh...

      Delete
    9. As I noted in my previous comment, God's system of "justice" (which most Christians claim is "perfect"), is retributive in nature. You mess up, and someone has to pay. Even if you don't mess up, someone still has to pay. And if you don't make the right choices during your brief moment of life, the punishment is eternal. That doesn't sound like perfect justice to me. Id God wants to do what's right for humanity, why not teach us whatever lessons we need to learn, and don't give up on us, but keep trying until we get it right? (Kind of like the Hindu system.) Surely this God, who loves our souls so much, could manage to do that.

      Delete
  2. I think an atheist, invoking the PoE, is working under theistic assumptions anyway. There are many forms of atheism with really strongly objective senses of "good" and "evil", so in invoking the idea that "evil exists" the atheist already is seeing the world thru theistic "glasses", even if only to point out a flaw or contradiction?

    Why done it matter, then, if back on the atheist's "home field" there exists at best only relative or subjectively-evil forms of "evil?" If this is, so to speak, an "away match" for the atheist?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think an atheist, invoking the PoE, is working under theistic assumptions anyway.
      - Here we go. The good old "You can't talk about 'evil' because you're an atheist" ploy. Well let's talk about that. First, I speak the same language as you, so I know perfectly well what we mean by the word, and I am quite capable of talking about it. Second, doing so does nor require that I make any presumptions about the existence of evil. You have to understand that this argument attempts to show a logical contradiction in what THEISTS presume. Those theistic presumptions are:

      1 God is onniscient.
      2 God is omnipotent.
      3 God is omnibenevolent.
      4 Evil exists. (in the classic statement of the argument).

      These are not presumptions that an atheist would make. They are presumptions that theists make. But I have heard your objection many times before, and all it tells me is that the one making the objection doesn't understand the argument.

      Delete
    2. No, I'm not objecting there. ;-) I agree that adopting an opponents view to show a problem is a perfectly valid tactic, just as you say....so in this case I was agreeing with you. .... sorry to be unclear....

      Delete
  3. 1 God's nature is good.
    2 Good does not exist without God.
    3 Evil does not exist without good.
    4 If evil exists, then good exists
    5 Evil exists.
    6 Therefore, good exists.
    7 Therefore, God exists.

    This is nonsense of course. And this syllogism if it correctly reflects Turek's argument shows his argument to be not only illogical but irrational. Each statement in a syllogism must build upon and be founded in its precedent statement. Therefore:

    1 God's nature is good.
    2 Good does not exist without God.
    3 Good does not exist without evil.
    4 If good exists, then evil exists
    5 Good exists.
    6 Therefore, evil exists.
    7 Therefore, God exists.

    Therefore, you cannot have evil without God. Now I say, as I think every rational and reasonable person let alone atheists would agree, get rid of the Christian God and you get rid of the risibly tendentious Christian version of good and evil in one fell swoop. Humanity can then rebuild what it means to be good and what is deemed evil grounded in a secular, humanist paradigm that is simply light years ahead in ontological and epistemological terms than the unfounded, superstitious and totally unnatural bunkum that is propagated by religion. It is the rule of law, no matter how imperfect it might be, that guides society's better nature, justice, fairness, equity, respect. Religion has proven to be ambivalent at best on every one of these criteria. Even in a community so morbidly drenched in religiosity as a Christian one, none of these criteria can ever be guaranteed without the underpinning of the 'rule of law', a mandatory regulatory framework, which must by necessity take precedence over religious 'trooths'™.

    And of course that is exactly what we see has happened over the course of history; no fault divorces, women's sovereign right over her own reproductive health, marriage equality, to mention some of the more recent. The law trumps [pardon the pun] religious beliefs wherever common sense, research and genuine inquiry has demonstrated the nonsense of religious belief.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In other words, there is no proof whatsoever in Turek's argument for the existence of a God. But what it does demonstrate in spades is that the inextricable relationship between God, evil, good is superfluous, irrelevant and completely inconsequential to establishing the principles of the rule of law. It is, if ever at all, only one of a myriad of ideas that might contribute to the principles underpinning the rule of law. Indeed there have been so many foundational christian positions categorically rejected in establishing the right balance in the community's best interest about guiding proper behaviour and actions. We can live without the impost of religious bunkum. But we cannot live without the rule of law. Period.

      Delete
    2. The Christian view of justice, unfortunately, involves retribution. Which prevents true justice because it reinforces evils, rather than correcting them. Not to mention amplifying conflicts even to the point of needlessly causing wars. Get rid of God and his attendant evil, and we can focus on doing what's right. For humanity and for the world.

      Delete
  4. Arguments from evil are internal critiques of theism. They do not depend on evil existing.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/02/08/is-there-a-problem-of-evil-for-atheism/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/07/06/are-atheism-and-moral-realism-logically-incompatible/

    Example:

    1. If theism is true, then if a fact of type T exists, then evil exists.
    2. If theism is true, then it is not the case that evil exists.
    3. Therefore, if theism is true, then it is not the case that a fact of type T exists.
    4. A fact of type T exists.
    5. Therefore, it is not the case that theism is true.

    Logical arguments from evil of many varieties can be made without appealing to moral realism of any sort. Evidential arguments from evil also do not necessarily require a commitment to moral realism. Evidential arguments, in essence, say some fact about evil (or what would be evil given theism) would probably not occur given theism, and so is either evidence against theism or it makes theism improbable.

    At the Secular Outpost, Joe also made the question begging argument that God = the good, and evil implies the good, so arguments from evil that rely on the existence of evil must presuppose the truth of theism.

    ReplyDelete
  5. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2017/08/31/problem-problem-evil-2/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/02/22/victor-reppert-on-the-argument-from-evil-as-a-reductio/

    You're in good company in rejecting that arguments from evil have no force. Turek is not a good thinker, but ought to be refuted given his large audience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ryan.

      Cross Examined seems to get a lot of traffic. It does seem to provide easy answers to difficult problems. But I doubt their audience will come here to read my responses (much less to Secular Outpost).

      Delete
    2. Jeff debated Turk around a year and a half ago. Many fans of Turek made comments on the YouTube video of the debate, and it was clear most of them either had no familiarity with atheology, or they simply had no interest. Your post is well done, but unfortunately it likely won't matter to most existing fans of Turek. But as a plus side, fence sitters do find such posts during Google searches, so it's nice to have them. I think it's worth the time to rebut theists as an exercise in making your thoughts clear and as a means of potentially reaching someone with doubts.

      Delete