Sunday, June 28, 2009

Evil: A Solution for Christians, A Problem for Atheists

The bulk and coup de grace` of McCloskey’s argument seems to be the problem of evil, therefore my response will spend most of the time addressing this issue. I have always found this to be a most peculiar objection coming from the atheist. McCloskey seems to think that the actions of Hitler, actions like rape, murder are all actually wrong. How does this typically work though, to say someone has done a wrong? The most immediate and similar example that comes to mind is our basic legal concept. Wrong-doing is exemplified when one breaks established law. My question is, to what law does McCloskey point to say Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin were wrong in their actions? By what authoritative law does McCloskey appeal to to condemn rape and murder beyond merely his personal opinion? Perhaps a common scenario will tease this point out a bit more.

Suppose you are driving down a country road, quite distracted by the beautiful scenery. Your daze is abruptly interrupted by blue and red police car lights. You pull over and the cop approaches your car and asks if you are aware of the posted speed limit and how fast you were going. “Seventy in a fifty-five” he tells you, pointing to a near-by speed limit sign. The violation is obvious; you take your ticket and with a forced smile continue on your way. While kicking yourself down the road you again see the blue and red of dread. You pull over, the cop approaches and hands you a ticket for ten thousand dollars. “What!” you reply ecstatically. The cop replies “Not only do I absolutely hate PT Cruisers, but you got it with a spoiler in mint green, both of which are completely ridiculous. I’m fining you ten thousand dollars for a stupid car with a stupid color”. You like all people respond with complete bewilderment. “Now hold on, that’s not a law. No law says I can be fined for driving a PT Cruiser nor is there one regulating color. You can’t fine me based on just your arbitrary whim”.

Before one can even raise the problem of evil, we have to establish what evil is and that it is a real thing. It can’t just be a by-product of emoting over ones likes or dislikes; under this guise God’s existence can be disproven by children given the existence of bath-time or vegetables. No, evil must be something a lot more substantive if it is to ever be considered as a serious objection against theism. Indeed, something like the first situation between the cop and driver must be in place before this can become meaningful. The question then is does something like this exists and if so, how does it exist? Does there exist something like objective morality, objective moral good from which one can actually deviate to bring about something that can be called a legitimate moral wrong or evil? If no, then the objection dies an abrupt death. However if the atheist says that something like that does exist, is she out of the woods yet? I would argue that in affirming objective evil and thus a necessary objective moral presence in the world from which one can violate, the atheist shoots herself with the gun she wields; and fatally I propose.
But why fatally, this is surely strong claim? In the theists’ worldview, the Judeo-Christian view in particular, there exists a sufficient condition to give reason for something like objective morality, this being, in one view at least, God and specifically His nature. Goodness is grounded in the nature of God and emanates from Him as do rays inextricably from the sun to us. Now of course there are various responses and objections given to this as with virtually every view, but here we at least have a reasonable explanation given to make sense of the morality that we intuitively recognize as a fixture of our existence. If something like objective morality exists “out there” it definitely is not the by-product of physical matter. Incumbent moral ideas can only exist in minds, and if morality is transcendent over and above the opinions of man, like logic, if it is more than that, then it stands to reason that a transcendent mind exists. This we call God. But does atheism have a better explanation for the existence of objective good from which one can rebel so that it can be properly called real evil? I’ve never heard any and McCloskey offers none. What shall we say then? That while the problem of evil at least as an emotional and existential concern still exists for the theist and Christians in particular, it is an even bigger problem for the atheists if it is a real fixture of the universe. The detour meant to veer us off the course in God belief inadvertently loops right back around to Him.

Does this mean the problem of evil is solved? As to not avoid McCloskey’s arguments as exactly stated, I will now focus on the logical problem of evil. McCloskey says “it is because evil exists that we believe God does not exists”. Now I think the aforementioned argument really puts this thinking in peril, but might we entertain McCloskey’s premises to see where else he goes wrong. He asserts that “no perfect being could have created a world in which there was avoidable suffering or in which his creations would (and who could have been created so as not to) engage in morally evil acts, acts which result in the harm of innocent people”. Now no support is given for this assertion and the burden of proof is definitely on McCloskey. However I think a few challenges can be offered.

First, does it necessarily follow in a demonstrable way that a perfect being could not have created a world like McCloskey describes? I’m trying to imagine what his definition of perfect is exactly; I’ll assume his stance is that God is all-powerful and all-good for the sake of speculation. If by omnipotent does he mean God can do anything, even that which is logically contradictory? It seems as though this is his view, for he seems to think God can make people freely choose to only do good which is a contradiction. But if he does think God can do literally anything, then he can’t think God can’t create the world he described, for God is after omnipotent. However if he acknowledges that being all-powerful doesn’t mean God can create any world he wants, like one with square circles, people who kill themselves with their own corpses and other logical absurdities, then he can acknowledge that if God were to grant moral freedom to agents then they necessarily are free to make their own choices either good or evil so that the idea of evil acts by humans and the existence of God are not logically incompatible.

Now suffering is indeed a slippery word and subject; certainly things considered suffering by your average American should hardly be considered such. However people obviously do suffer but does this mean that God logically does not exist? Again McCloskey bears the burden. Suffering is typically caused by the deprivation of a certain need or by the act committed one to another. Man’s free will was already noted, but the bible gives its own defense concerning other kinds of suffering. It states that because of the very evil McCloskey speaks of, the creation is a spoiled one, and interestingly enough the atheist typically agrees or they wouldn’t raise the objection that things are not as they ought to be.

Things are not as they should be because this world is a result of what it means to depart from God. Just as one grows colder and colder as they move away from a heat source, so all creation groans as we separate ourselves from God. Only by embracing and being reconciled to the God McCloskey would like us to reject will our existence be one which he wishes to have. A frequent component in this debate is one of bad things happening to good or innocent people. If the Christian narrative is true, this premise is false. There aren’t any innocent victims so that there are people who somehow deserve a good life who but are deprived by a goof-up on God’s part. Rather, there are only sinful people who, if they experience anything other than the wrath of God, are to be grateful. I realize this conclusion isn’t emotionally satisfying nor flattering to the ego, however if God is real, this deflating of our self-esteem would be an irrelevant factor here.

Finally, God may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evil that is seemingly unexplainable from our human perspective. As long as it’s even possible God may have good reasons for permitting evil, then there is no necessary contradiction between the existence of God and the presence of evil even if we don’t know what they are. God would be the only one capable of making that call and because God is all-good, as the atheist is usually willing to concede, it follows then seemingly necessarily (I argue) that he indeed would have such reasons. Consider the following syllogism:

If God is all-good then what He wills and permits would have good ends
Evil is something God permits
Therefore evil has good ends

If this is a sound argument, it follows then that both the logical and probabilistic or evidential arguments against God’s existence and evil need some additional work. It also follows that if this (and it certainly seem to be the case) is one of the integral legs which uphold the table of McCloskey’s arguments it is now a bit wobbly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You Can Lead Some Non-believers to Evidence, But You Can't Make Them Think

Now right off the bat, I want to give full credit to Ray Comfort for the title of this blog, because I ripped it off his latest book of similar title. That being said, I also chose this title because, well, it's true! Lately I've been engaging various individuals over the internet about Christianity and its truth merit, because I've been more and more convinced that the facts behind Christianity make it well placed on the battlefield of competing ideas, even superiorly so. In doing so, I've encountered everyone from extreme, unmitigated skeptics to those who claim all out omniscience (no really). From this what I've come to realize is that for some people, evidence doesn't matter. They've a priori, that is before any evidence is even considered, already concluded that things like Jesus and God, are necessarily false and simply can't be true, though no justification has been (or can be for that matter) given.

I have a certain apologetic argument that I use, really just for myself. I think it's good but it's simply too easy for a detractor to wiggle out of, so rarely do I use it. I call it the Manufacturer's Manual argument or M&M. It basically states that because the bible so accurately describes the nature and tendencies of mankind, and does so most times in an unflattering light, that it 1). does not contain solely the ideas of man, for man would write about himself in more glowing terms (see new age "theology") and 2). the only kind of individual that could really understand the inner-workings of man, in some cases a predictive fashion, would have to be someone with real, objective insight into the human project, the molder of the clay if you will. And so given the pin point, unfiltered assessment of mankind in the bible it's my opinion it could have only written by a manufacturer OF mankind. Why did I say all this? Because the bible so accurately describes just such a person as aforementioned. Consider this passage.

Rom.1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools.

This is a part Paul's most brilliant argument from natural theology. In this he argues that creation is more than enough proof to point one to the fact that there must be a Creator. Now in the encounters I've been having, this hasn't been my argument, but what I pull from this passage relating to my blog is this; for some its not about evidence. Indeed it never will be. Notice Paul says they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It's not that the evidence hasn't come in or doesn't suffice rather it's where the evidence leads, and this I think is what I've been encountering. I'll give you a scenario and you decide for yourself.

Recently I was chatting with a guy, Carol he called himself (after a city). He made the claim that Christianity is just a bunch of fictitious stories and there is no evidence for it, none, zilch. Now immediately, I knew what level of thoughtfulness I was up against, and I hope if you don't pick up on this fallacy, you'll leave here with that knowledge. When someone makes the claim that no evidence exists for say God, they're claiming something ironically God-like, omniscience.

To say that there is no evidence for God (or anything really) you'd have to have complete knowledge of all that is in the universe, on every planet, through all the depths of all there is. Seasoned critical thinkers know this, that's how I know I'm up against someone who hasn't been doing this long, and so is probably emoting their preferences rather than expressing an idea they have arguments for. Now of coarse the intellectually sound thing to say is rather, from what I've seen so far, no evidence for X convinces me, thats alot more rational. I pointed this out and he even said, almost as if it was my fault "how can i prove a universal negative?"...exactly. So he somewhat retreated, but then started up again saying theres no evidence outside the bible to corroborate it.

Now again, and I hope you retain this, when someone says something like this, take a deep breath in and relax, because you're dealing with someone who has absolutely no idea what they're talkin about. If you've done your homework about the evidences that support the Christian faith, you know this kind of claim could only be made by someone who hasn't even begun to investigate Christianity from any kind of objective standpoint. I asked him how he knew this (because of coarse he couldn't because its not true, but i wanted to amuse myself a little) and he just gave a sort of "just so" answer. I think he also kind of knew he was making claims too big for him to handle so he replied "well show me some then, prove there are some", to which I gleefully responded "sure!" I always love that part in the game. So I gave him a link to some writings by the Jewish historian Josephus, recognized by all of scholarship to be a reliable source of information of Jewish and Roman history from about the mid 1st century to the end. He's of paticular interest because of his references to Jesus, and his brother James' death.

I showed him the link, he looked at it and said "this isn't proof". I asked why not? He said "well, this is just somebody interpreting the bible", and I asked, "and how do you know that ?". No response, but a change in direction "you just gave me some scriptures and doctrines", my response "how are the historical writings of a non-Christian Jew scripture and doctrine, what about this passage suggest that". No real response to this question, some more reassertions and finally "okay this is a extra-biblical reference I'll give you that, but it doesn't prove Jesus existed!" Notice all the wiggling, and not due to careful reflection about that passages. It's not as though he took what I gave him and then I don't know, researched it maybe, and then came to the conclusions he did. Rather in sort of a knee-jerk reaction sort of way, responded nope, not proof, not real, something, anything other than evidence.

Now what I told him was that Josephus isn't even the only one, and that there are more. He never responded, but I didn't want to continue because he was being irrational, and I told him this. I said "for people like you, no evidence will ever suffice, I could show you a hundred historians, but you would find a way to explain all of them away, because you're a priori committed to the idea that nothing said in the bible can be true". He scoffed as I expected but we ended there. Now unbeknowst to him (and most people for that matter) the very existence of Jesus as just a historical person is not even in hot dispute. The overwhelming majority of academia agree He existed, though they may not substantiate the theological implications of the gospels, though some do. So you have this guy, 21, who says emphatically that no evidence for Jesus exists outside the bible (although theres no good reasons to reject the gospels as evidence, but that's another blog) exists to say Jesus existed, and you have all of those who matter on the subject, who are experts in the field who say he did. Am I the only person who takes pause at this?

To me encounters like these and many others simply prove one thing, for some no amount of evidence could ever convince them if the evidence concludes in a place they dont like. It's not as though (for some people) theres no evidence for God or Christianity and because of this people don't believe. Rather it's the implications of what that means, and that dictates that they won't believe. In fact as I recall when I asked him where he had looked for evidence he said "My experience, and thats all that matters. I used to be a Christian". Now that he was allegedly a Christian says absolutely nothing about his exposure to the evidences for Christianity. Indeed most Christians are fideist, and have no exposure to external evidence for Christianity and some even disdain the very concept, unfortunately. So it's clear to me then that he's never known about any evidence, nor has probably desired to. I've often heard it said that people like that "look for evidence the way criminals look for cops".

So in conclusion I'd just like to say this, when you're fulfilling your responsibility as an ambassador for Jesus, be mindful that for some, it's not you, or that you're case isn't compelling enough for opposers, it's the conclusion, its what you're suggesting. As Paul said they suppress what they do know, and because of this they keep themselves from what they need to know. Indeed, the end result is that they become horses needlessly dying of thirst at the banks of the River of Life.