God and gratuitous evil

This a follow-up to my previous post having had a conversation with the person whom inspired the post in the first place to see what he thought.  His main focus is on his definition of gratuitous evil.  Gratuitous evil as he defines is evil that God could have prevented without missing out on some greater good or taking on some greater evil.  I don’t object to the definition, and I’m not certain I could think of a more reasonable one.  I had previously defined it as an evil act for which there is no redeeming good or purpose.  He concedes that somebody killing somebody else would not be gratuitous in and of itself because it’s an evil that God could not have prevented without sacrificing the greater good of free will.  Still reasonable.  Examples could include natural disasters, certain diseases, torture of non-human primates and other animals, i.e., a pack of chimpanzees who clearly experience pain as we do, are trapped in a forest fire and burned – die a horrible and slow painful death.

This is all a lead up for arguing that God probably doesn’t exist.  Some people might think this is a liability for the Atheist: arguing that God probably doesn’t exist.  In fact, this is really the only honest way an Atheist can argue.  It takes into account that proving that God does not exist is virtually impossible, and attempts to come to the most reasonable conclusion.  This is actually the best way for an Atheist to argue (toward the probability of God’s existence).  So here’s the argument in a basic form:

  1. If God exists, God would prevent the occurrence of any instance or degree of evil that is NOT logically necessary for achieving any greater good or avoiding any greater evil. (If God exists, God would not permit unjustified and wholly gratuitous evil acts).
  2. Permitting an unjustified and wholly gratuitous evil is NOT logically necessary for achieving any greater good we are aware of or avoiding any greater evil we are aware of. (We don’t know how God permitting a gratuitous evil act could possibly be justified.)
  3. Probably, Permitting a gratuitous and wholly gratuitous evil is NOT logically necessary for achieving any greater good or avoiding any greater evil. (Probably, God permitting a wholly gratuitous evil act is not justified.)
  4. Probably, God does not exist.

I can see how the argument seems compelling on its face.  Already the problem of evil to one degree or another, in my opinion, is the reason most people who reject the existence of God do so.  For someone who rejects God based on real or perceived evil this is difficult to overcome and look past in order to see God.

But here’s why the argument is not compelling from where I sit.  This argument rests on certain preconditions.  All arguments do.  Usually it’s not a problem to grant some state of affairs in order to make an argument of this sort.  However, in this case the fatal flaw is outside the argument itself.

Is the argument offered granting that God does exist or that we don’t know?  It doesn’t seem to matter since either way I believe the argument fails on either presumption for different reasons.

If for sake of argument we presume God does exist, then it falsifies itself and premise 1. is where it begins to tumble.  It states that if God exists then God would prevent the occurrence of any instance or degree of evil that is NOT logically necessary for achieving any greater good or avoiding any greater evil.  OK, then if God exists, God would not permit unjustified and wholly gratuitous evils.  Since God would prevent all gratuitous evil, then it stands to reason that no gratuitous evil exists.  By granting that we live in a world where God exists, and that God would not permit gratuitous evil, by the very granting that God exists we have reason to believe gratuitous evil does not exist and every evil act has a logically necessary greater good or reduced evil as an end.

If, however, we are operating under the condition that we don’t know whether God exists, then we are limited by our perspective.  We are just not in a position to know if there is a justifiable reason for what at first blush seems gratuitous.  In the above example of chimpanzees being burned alive to a slow and torturous death, we just can’t know if there might be some good to come from that.  Who knows, perhaps with their diet and its influence on their bodily make up as the were burned, their composition changed in such a way that it interacted with the ground on which they died.  Let’s further say that the chemical reaction between their burning bodies and the burning ground created a chemical compound which will be later found to cure cancer when future scientists excavate the area.  Suppose even further that had the chimpanzees died from natural causes, the cure would never have been found.

This is rather far-fetched, I admit.  But it highlights the flaw: that we are not in the position to know if certain events serve no redeeming purpose and truly are wholly unjustifiable.  It may be the case that a justification for what seems to be a gratuitous evil will never become known.  The reason may not even be discoverable.  However, this has no bearing on whether there is a justification and can’t be used to argue that there exists no justification.

This is why I contest Premise 2.  Our lack of knowledge doesn’t negate any reality and cannot reasonably be used as a liability.  The argument is essentially: since we cannot be certain we can reasonably conclude there is none.  This reasoning is steeped in bias toward the argument’s conclusion.  At best we can only conclude we do not have enough information to make an informed decision.

This is the bottom line problem with arguing toward probabilities.  Probabilities are determined by the background information we consider.  For example, suppose John lives in Texas, and 70% of people who live in Texas prefer Coke to Pepsi.  The probability of John preferring Coke to Pepsi is highly probable.  But if we learn that John is not a native to Texas, but is from Connecticut, and 70% people from Connecticut prefer Pepsi to Coke, this gives us new information to consider and it could be said that it is unlikely John would prefer Coke to Pepsi.

Probabilities are relative to background information.  And we are not privy to all background information.  We are limited in our knowledge of the future and of any tangential events which were created or avoided as a direct or indirect result of an apparent gratuitously evil act.

If we only consider what appears to be gratuitous evil when we contemplate the existence of God, then it’s easy to see why so many people conclude that God’s existence is improbable.  But, the existence of evil and suffering are not the only relevant considerations for God’s existence.  This is why if we are arguing about the probability that God exists we must take into consideration more than just apparent gratuitous evil.

The problem of gratuitous evil is more a problem of ignorance.  I think most of us could handle even severe adversity (emotionally and physically) if we knew why it were happening.  This is the reason the problem of evil and suffering is so compelling and persistent.  We have a natural drive to find answers.  When we don’t have an answer, we speculate—that it could be anything, or nothing at all.  And that’s really the problem of the problem of evil and suffering: the more we try to conclude from incomplete information, the more likely we are to make misdiagnosis and jump to conclusions.

Comments

  1. You’ve created a nice argument for yourself to tear down. Excellent demonstration of the straw man fallacy. But if we look closer, it’s really more of an argument from ignorance. All your ‘teach the controversy’ words like ‘if’ and ‘whether’ and ‘probably’ are unnecessarily emphasized in the argument you created so that you can later use them as weak points to attack the argument. Bad form, JB.

  2. It’s not bad form, it was a poor argument. The argument was quoted with the exception of clarifying terms. The argument fails precisely because of the assumptions the premeses make. I can’t help that. A strawman implies that I altered the argument to my favor. Sorry, that’s just the poor nature of arguments against the existence of God, I’m happy to see you recognize that.

  3. And this really isn’t about god’s existence. That’s just a logical extension. What this is about is evil. We atheists see a natural world that doesn’t give special rights and privileges to people, hence suffering and death mitigated only by dedicated actions of people to improve the world. We have a perfectly consistent answer for the problem of evil. Evil (suffering, death, depression, etc) only becomes a problem when someone posits an all-good, all-powerful god.

    I will reiterate the argument from Epicurus to replace the straw man you presented: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    This doesn’t rest on ifs and maybes, but rather on the simple definition of words. Neither the premise nor the conclusion deny the existence of some higher power. The argument merely concludes that no being of any sort can deserve the name “God” given the existence of evil in the world.

    As for whether ‘gratuitous’ evil exists. Mass disasters must be gratuitous evil unless you think 125k dead in an Indonesian Tsunami is justified. Or the billions upon billions who have suffered excruciating deaths from bacterial and viral infections. Before you answer ‘it was for a greater good’ remember that we’re not talking about a mostly-powerful, mostly-good being that has to cut corners and break some eggs to make an omelette. All-powerful, all-good doesn’t allow for consequentialist tradeoffs like mass murder and widespread suffering.

  4. Jason writes: “All-powerful, all-good doesn’t allow for consequentialist tradeoffs like mass murder and widespread suffering.”

    Really? How is this logical? We (as modestly “good” humans) allow for these sorts of consequential tradeoffs all the time. What gives you ANY inkling that an all-good God doesn’t allow for “tradeoffs”?
    Here’s an easy example: I have kids. I know that the kids are going to grow up an face suffering. Some of them might face immense suffering. Does that make me “evil” for choosing to have kids?

    Another example: The very system that allows for torture (our nerves) also allow us to avoid flames and sharp objects. Perhaps you would have preferred a world where your spouse is chosen for you, where your nose is automatically wiped when it drips, and where food food magically appears in your stomach when you are hungry. We would only have to sit on our butt all day while all our needs are cared for without any human effort. Is this REALLY the world that you want? If not, how can you argue that this world is inconsistent with the Christian concept of God?

    If God gave you the sort of world that you describe, I suspect that it would be absolutely “hell” for you!

  5. Jason, let’s do another example. I enjoy adventurous outdoors activities. I’ve taken my kids (ages 6-8) on various adventures including skiing, backpacking, boating, etc. All of these activities are loads of fun and they help the kids develop confidence and appreciation of our natural world.

    But all these activities come with a risk. I hear about boating accidents every year. Kids (and adults) get killed skiing every year. Hikers get lost and die every year. We live in a dangerous world – yet I *choose* to get my kids participating in these “dangerous” activities. Why? Because the “good” outweighs the risk of “bad”. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY for my kids to gain the benefit of those activities unless I am also willing to accept the inherent risks. Does that make me evil?

    Would you prefer that I kept my kids safely locked in a secure cage inside my house where no bad things can happen to them? Of course not. But, you argue that God *should* keep his creatures safely locked up where no harm can befall them.

    Your concept of a “good” God is entirely inconsistent with the way that we use the term “good” in everyday life.

  6. Tum, “We (as modestly “good” humans) allow for these sorts of consequential tradeoffs all the time. What gives you ANY inkling that an all-good God doesn’t allow for “tradeoffs”?”
    Exactly my point. We’re imperfect, so we must occasionally engage in tradeoffs as the perfect option isn’t within our limits. All-powerful has no limits, so all-good doesn’t have the excuse of limits, therefore no tradeoffs allowed. Or you can take the tradeoffs, but that means not all-powerful and therefore not god.

    When you take your kids out, you 1) take a risk in order to achieve a reward and 2) show your kids the same normal human behavior (risk/reward). That’s a normal thing to do, but you’re not God.

    Imagine you were boating and a meteor from space felt out of the sky and crashed into your boat, killing your whole family. An all-powerful or even mostly-powerful being could redirect that meteor without anyone ever even knowing about it. Evil prevented and no free will impeded. Maybe that happens frequently, but we know for certain it doesn’t happen every time, therefore, all-good and all-powerful is excluded from possibility.

  7. Oh, so you want a God that tweeks the natural world in order to avoid bad things? How far should he go? Ok, so he tweeks the location of the meteor. What’s next? Do you want him to tweek the location of the car driving towards me so I avoid a head-on colision? Fine. Do you want him to tweek the location of a falling tree so it doesn’t hit my house? Do you want him to tweek the location of the chair in my kitchen so that I don’t stub my toe? How about tweeking the direction of the wind so that I don’t get sand in my eyes? At every level, we would complain that God wasn’t doing more to alleviate suffering until, ultimately, we would be in a chaotic unpredictable world where there would be no freedom left.

    Your line of logic is absurd. We live in amazing world that has reproducible laws, in balance, meet our needs quite nicely. Most people are relatively happy with their lives. (note that the suicide rate is rather low – in spite of the obvious availability of pain-free ways to end our existence if we so-choose.)

    You seem to believe that “all-powerful” means that God can do illogical things. Can God create a world in which beings have free-choice but we have a pain-free existence? That’s kindof like the classic grade school objection to God: Can God create a rock bigger than he can lift?

    It’s not that you have disproved God. It’s that you have asked God to be illogical. Sortof like asking me to imagine a world where 1+1 = 3 or where circles have jagged corners.

  8. Slippery slope? Pretty weak rebuttal.

    The world is fine if we don’t expect any magical beings to prevent evil. There’s nothing wrong with affecting those laws though. I can’t violate physics, but I certainly change the natural world all the time. Irrigation and HIV cocktails aren’t irresponsible or irrelevant. And it’s only illogical in your mind that free choice and pain-free existence is illogical. And I didn’t say pain-free, just alleviating “gratuitous evil”. Most people live lives without being washed into the sea or starving to death. That could easily be the case for everyone with essentially no impedence of free will, assuming they didn’t want such a thing to happen, in which case, fine.

    Some Christians believe god can do illogical things or violate tautologies. I’m glad you reject that nonsensical proposition. If you don’t equate ‘gratuitous evil’ with necessary pain and suffering, then you’ll see that a world with free will and also without gratuitous evil is not the least bit illogical.

    Remember, only the most extreme cases (real not theoretical) need be provided to disprove the all-good, all-powerful god. Tornados, hurricanes, and birth defects too gruesome to describe all are evidence that there is no being powerful enough or caring enough to stop them. That is the same as saying God (by definition all good and all powerful) doesn’t exist.

  9. Let me get this strait:
    You can imagine a world without birth defects? Isn’t the process that allows for birth defects (genetic mutations) the exact SAME process that allowed for our origins in the first place? (ie natural selection) A world without birth defects would be a world without people.

    A world without tornadoes and hurricanes would be a world that has no weather patterns that allow for growth of food crops. It would also be a rather boring world (think: No snow, no rainy days, no blustery fall days).

    It seems to me that you believe that the words “all powerful” and “all good” mean that God COULD have created a world that fits your idea of the “perfect”. Since he didn’t create such a world, therefore he doesn’t exist. But did you ever stop to think that if (perhaps) God *does* exist, then maybe he had more than your personal pleasure in mind when he created you?

    For example, I certainly want my kids to be happy. But I realize that if I give my kids everything they ask for, they won’t truly be happy. I put restrictions on them, I make their lives uncomfortable at times and I (sometimes) even inflict pain on them. Does this make me evil? I see no reason to think that God is any different on this count. If God exists, then he certainly can have reasons for pain that we don’t understand (that’s John’s point). But there are a great many reasons for pain that we CAN understand (like your two examples above).

    Sure, God could have created the world in which we turn into rubber bouncy balls when we fall off a cliff, or when we magically float in the water when we fall off a boat in a storm. Is that really what you are asking of God? Wouldn’t such a world prove (beyond doubt) that God exists? In such a world, would you really have a choice to worship God? Yet the God described in the Bible wants us to WILLINGLY follow him – not to be COMPELLED to follow him. The world you describe wouldn’t allow for that free choice. Therefore, it isn’t a world that an all-powerful / all-good God would create since the ultimate “good” described in the Bible is love. (love requires free choice) He created a world in which belief in God always rests on a knife’s edge. This is entirely consistent with the God described in the Bible – a God who wants us to freely choose Him rather than be “arm twisted” into choosing Him.

  10. My personal pleasure? We’re talking about mass suffering, not my personal pleasure.
    And if you accept God is not all-powerful but rather subject to the laws of evolution and science (even just meteorology), then we don’t have to have this conversation. We’re talking about a magic god that can do literally anything, including fiddle with the laws of nature. If he chooses not to help despite the capacity to do so and despite widespread suffering, then he’s evil.

    If I knew for certain god existed, I could still choose to worship/follow or not. That’s easy. People choose to do irrational and self-destructive things all the time.

    The way you describe it, god added uncertainty, evidence against him, and evil just to mess with us. It’s just a “cosmic gag reel” as Pacino puts it in Devil’s Advocate. That’s not ‘willing’ supplication, it’s insane supplication – worship despite lack of evidence and evidence against, even good reasons (evil) to refuse to worship even if we did have evidence of a powerful creator. And consider this for a moment – in what way is this ‘worship me if you can’ game consistent with an enlightened or even mature being?

  11. First, for all we know, the world could have been set up in a way that allowed for MUCH more horrific suffering than we know in our present universe. Perhaps the universe we observe IS the perfect balance between limiting suffering but still allowing for freedom.

    Second, is it really only mass suffering that you think should be alleviated? Seriously, what sort of a world are you imagining? Ok, so God tweaks the universe to alleviate the starving kids in Africa. But what makes them more “worthy” than the middle-aged man suffering a heart attack leaving his kids to be orphans? Or the elderly woman dying a slow painful death from cancer? Where does it stop? We all die. Many of us will suffer greatly during the process of death. Many of us will watch our loved ones suffer greatly and die. Should God intervene in all these cases?

    It seems to me that you are objecting to death itself. You’re arguing that God wouldn’t have created a world in which the death rate is 100% and the “painful death” rate might approach 50%. Therefore he doesn’t exist.

    But think about some of the very virtues that we call “good”: Bravery, courage, altruism, hope. Do any of these virtues mean anything in the face of a pain-free or death-free life? What if the development of those virtues was deemed valuable by God? (as the Bible clearly states) Moreover, what if death were the perfect reminder that maybe life is about something OTHER than just satisfying my personal pleasures and whims? Maybe there are purposes a little deeper than you are looking. Unfortunately, your belief set doesn’t allow you to look for any deeper purposes – so you rule them out from the start.

    As for your statements “If I knew for certain god existed, I could still choose to worship/follow or not. That’s easy. People choose to do irrational and self-destructive things all the time.”

    You don’t really know what you are saying here. The Bible constantly describes the relationship of God with his people as a love relationship – and uses marriage as a picture of that relationship. Imagine that your wife was the CEO of a major company and earned millions of $ per year. You were a high school dropout with a criminal record. Are you really free to reject her? Rejecting her means that you’d loose everything. Can you really say that you love her? How would you know that her wealth wasn’t messing with your emotions? How would she know that you weren’t just using her for her money? The only way love can work is when you are on equal footing. God stoops down low and puts himself on “equal footing” with us by not revealing his power – by not proving his existence. In doing so, he has created a world in which we can truly choose to love him and trust him.

  12. “We’re talking about a magic god that can do literally anything, including fiddle with the laws of nature.”

    No, the only ones who think we’re talking about “magic” gods are anti-theists. The Judeo-Christion God is a God of logic and reason, not someone who fiddles with the laws of nature willy nilly. We see God as the one who created those laws. That’s why it took Christianity to develop science as we know it today, in the belief that we can better know God by knowing His natural laws.

    I have never been able to understand why atheists insist on telling theists what God is supposed to be like, then attack this mythical strawman of a god, when it has nothing to do with how theists actually view God? The whole “magical sky fairy” trope is tiresome and ignorant.

  13. Tum -Your argument is, “It could be worse?” – another weak start. End all these examples of gratuitous suffering and it would be better. So we know for certain it could be better, so it must not be the perfect balance. Stop every instance of death from choking on food. Done. Better world. Or is everyone who died from choking on a piece their dinner a degenerate who was plotting mass genocide?

    “We all die. Many of us will suffer greatly during the process… Should God intervene?” Yes! Of course! Wouldn’t you? If you had the cure for cancer would you just hold onto it? Would you respond, “Got cancer? Just die.” That’s terrible of you, Tum. God answers the prayers of cancer sufferers every day with “No. See you soon. Tell you’re family they’ll have to go on without you.” Except he doesn’t say that. He just sits silent. And while I reject made-up claims of miracle cancer cures, 1000 miracle cures wouldn’t stop the suffering of the dying and their families.

    I’m not advocating for life without death. That may be a noble and utopian world, but death is not necessarily tragedy. It is merely the end of life. Again we are talking about gratuitous suffering, not simple death. So your arguments about virtue through death is irrelevant to this discussion. And the ‘gratuitous suffering’ we are talking about by definition does not create virtue, or at least not net virtue (more virtue than suffering).

    As for the last example, it is quite odd. Many people have a wealth disparity with their spouse. My fiancee makes a lot more than me. I’ve been the ‘rich’ one in prior serious relationships. Wealth disparity is irrelevant unless one or both parties is terribly insecure. If my fiancee made her money from fast food franchises or spent her money on fur coats, I’d have nothing to do with her because values are relevant. Being on ‘equal footing’ to have love is a sensible idea if you mean mutual respect or shared values. But if you mean equal money or power, I think you’ve got a confused idea of relationships and you’re betting against most relationships in the world.

    I just don’t see the logic about not revealing power or more specifically leaving contrary evidence. That would just be a twisted mind game. And justifying the suffering of billions by saying God is some unseen stalker testing ‘real’ love might be a good horror movie plot but it’s not good theology.

  14. Kun,
    “The whole “magical sky fairy” trope is tiresome and ignorant.”
    This is no made-up straw man of a God. When Christians pray, it makes us think that your god is magical and can grant wishes like a fairy. You said “magical sky fairy”, not me. I understand it’s inflammatory. But I have heard that terminology, and I just wanted to explain to you where people get that idea. If you believe God works exclusively within the laws of nature (presumably by choice), then you should never pray and you should also deny every reported miracle of Jesus in the Bible because that would blaspheme your conception of a God that obeys the boundaries of nature.

    • Jason

      Prayer to God is more akin to asking a parent for help than it is a conjurer for a magic potion. Atheists make their best attempt to cartoon up this scenario in order to feel better about dismissing it.

      • “You said “magical sky fairy”, not me.”

        Could you please brush up on your reading comprehension? I was speaking about atheists generically at that point, not about you specifically. Your “magic” comment brought it to mind.

        ” I understand it’s inflammatory. But I have heard that terminology, and I just wanted to explain to you where people get that idea. ”

        I understand where people get the idea – it’s a twisted strawman of what God is supposed to be, that is then used to mock those who believe in God. It’s a common tactic used by anti-theists.

        “If you believe God works exclusively within the laws of nature (presumably by choice), then you should never pray and you should also deny every reported miracle of Jesus in the Bible because that would blaspheme your conception of a God that obeys the boundaries of nature.”

        Spoken like someone who doesn’t understand what prayer is. Nor miracles, for that matter. You do love to twist things around to ludicrous conclusions.

        God is not a giant wish fullfiller in the sky, or like a genie in a lamp. Prayer is talking to God. Sometimes, that involves asking for things. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, prayer is just pouring our hearts out to God, or giving thanks, showing gratitude, etc. Sometimes God answers prayers in ways we recognise. Sometimes, in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes, the answers to our prayers are not tangible at all. Praying is not like spellcasting, either.

  15. Jason writes: “End all these examples of gratuitous suffering and it would be better. So we know for certain it could be better, so it must not be the perfect balance. Stop every instance of death from choking on food. Done. Better world.”

    Again, what makes you think that the entire purpose of God’s creation is for our comfort and pleasure?

    You start by saying that these things (suffering) is senseless and purposeless. Therefore, there is no God. But the problem with this logic is that *if* there IS a God, then your first statement is false. (ie, suffering is senseless and purposeless) In other words, you are just begging the question – you aren’t really making any sort of logical argument. You are essentially saying “I have a gut feeling that God doesn’t exist”. That’s fine. But recognize it for what it is. It isn’t logical. It’s just your personal feelings.

    I completely agree with Kun. The natural world is set up in a particular way. You’ll notice that a great many of the miracles described in the Bible don’t actually defy any natural laws. (read the account of the parting of the red sea as one example – the Bible describes a “strong east wind” that blew all night, presumably exposing a previously unseen sand bar) Even many of the miracles of Jesus fall into this category. What makes them miraculous? The fact that they were pointing to God. (the word used in the Bible frequently is “sign”, not miracle)

  16. If in this life there’s no Heaven, then there must be no Hell after it all…if in this life there’s no Hell, then there must be no Heaven after it all.

    Ah, the merry-go-round of the debating atheist…if God doesn’t give me what I think I or anyone else deserves then He doesn’t deserve to be God.

    The fact is, God has given us the opportunity to get what we don’t deserve through Christ Jesus. Some, or most, don’t care for the opportunity because they care not for God. That’s the root of the existence of evil!

  17. “Prayer to God is more akin to asking a parent for help than it is a conjurer for a magic potion. Atheists make their best attempt to cartoon up this scenario in order to feel better about dismissing it.”
    Asking a parent for help. If help means curing cancer, winning the game, bestowing riches, making trouble go away, or helping Johnny kick the habit, then it’s perfectly reasonable to call it magic. These aren’t cartoon scenarios. Real people have real problems and they commonly abandon or overlook practical solutions in favor of magical solutions – crystals, auras, faith healers, intercessory prayer, imprecatory prayer, homeopathy. Don’t “church it up”. Prayer is still indistinguishable from magic.

  18. “You start by saying that these things (suffering) is senseless and purposeless. Therefore, there is no God. But the problem with this logic is that *if* there IS a God, then your first statement is false. (ie, suffering is senseless and purposeless) In other words, you are just begging the question”
    Wrong. YOU start by saying god is all good and all powerful. Then I (or more specifically JB) point out that there is gratuitous suffering in the world. I (or more specifically Epicurus) reasons soundly that the situations are logically incompatible. Hence no god. Begging the question enters nowhere into the discussion.

    If you were to say that god must exist therefore all evil must be justified. I then pointed at lots of unjustified evil. Then you were to respond that well it must be justified. God must have some higher purpose that requires submitting us all to suffering. I’d remind you that all-good and all-powerful preclude gratuitous suffering. You can’t make up a higher purpose, you have to provide some plausible examples or else you’re just literally denying reality and logic to hold white-knuckled onto your preconceptions about the world. Blind faith is a vice humanity can’t afford.

  19. Jason writes: “Wrong. YOU start by saying god is all good and all powerful. Then I (or more specifically JB) point out that there is gratuitous suffering in the world. I (or more specifically Epicurus) reasons soundly that the situations are logically incompatible”

    See, they are only incompatible with YOUR definition of “good” and “all powerful”. If “good” means “giving me a comfortable life”, then I agree. An all good, all powerful god doesn’t exist.

    But I disagree with your definitions. You’ll never find ANYWHERE in the Bible a description that “good = pain free”. In fact, if you read the New Testament, you’ll find quite the opposite trend. In general, the BEST things being done by God involve considerable pain and suffering.

    So I think we are in agreement. The god that you describe (and that Epicurus describes) does not exist. But that says nothing about the God described in the Bible – and the God that I worship.

  20. “comfortable life”? I’m taking about limiting gratuitous suffering, mass death, long-term suffering. But that’s fine. I’m not saying what god should be, just working with how other people represent their personal, subjective gods to me. You worship a god defined by “the BEST things being done by God involve considerable pain and suffering.” Sounds like a horrible demon to me, but you get to define your own god. You respond to the problem of evil by declaring evil to be good. Just be sure to clarify that to people right up front and no one will be confused.

  21. Kun, Listen, I don’t want to tell you what your beliefs are. But you say that prayer sometimes means asking for things and sometimes getting the things you ask for.
    That might not be spellcasting, but it’s at least unreliable spellcasting. Maybe prayer can be other things too, but it is sometimes intended to be a request for a supernatural intervention in your life. That is your description, not mine.

    • First of all, my alias is Kunoichi. It’s based on three words. Ku – no – ichi. Kun is a suffix that has a specific use which is either inappropriate to use, or intentionally insulting, depending on whether or not you already know what it means.

      Second, by your definition, my talking to my parents on the phone, that’s spellcasting. Every time my kids ask me for something – including things that as a parent, I know would actually be harmful to them, therefore I don’t give it to them – they’re spellcasting,

      You say you don’t want to tell me what my beliefs are, yet that’s exactly what you are doing, and you’re doing it badly, too.

  22. Kuno, so I’m not saying magic is bad. It’s reaching outside the natural world for a supernatural solution. Through technology or the difference in resources between kids and parents, it’s basically like magic, but it’s still within the bounds of physics and reality. The ‘magic’ happens when it’s a supernatural solution. But you’re the one offended at the suggestion. I’m just explaining the logical connection.

    I like to say I don’t use Google, I pray to Google. Google doesn’t answer my prayers in terms of action, but I do get information in response to my prayers. It’s nearly indistinguishable from magic. As far as I know, Google maps is literally a gift from God and when we mere mortals attempted to duplicate the technology, we got the Tom Tom / iPhone 5 maps disaster. Still amazing but not ‘magic’ like Google maps.

    • “But you’re the one offended at the suggestion.”

      That fact that I disagree with you or that I object to having what I say twisted to mean something entirely different does not mean I am offended. I am trying to communicate. That you are taking what I say and turning it inside out and upside down to conform to what you *think* I say is not something I find offensive. I see it done by atheists and anti-theists so often, I find it amusing.

      ” I’m just explaining the logical connection.”

      Based on what I’ve read from you, your grasp of logic is curious, indeed. It seems you define logic as “anything I say” and illogical as “anyone who disagrees with me.”

  23. Jason, what does the word “supernatural” mean to you?

  24. On supernatural – It gives a pass to understanding or any laws of physics. So it’s not ‘amazing’ like electricity to a 17th-century person or superconductivity or quantum entanglement or even theoretical physics like M-theory. Appealing to the supernatural means suspending all skepticism or intellectual responsibility in favor of just declaring that there can be no explained reason for such a thing other than ‘magic happened’ or ‘god did it’.

    • Jason

      Your “definition” is basically your rationale for dismissing divine intervention. It shows you are so biased toward naturalism that nothing could ever possibly convince you. Essentially you have defined for yourself away any possibilities. You have just admitted that you aren’t open to the possibility despite any claim that you make that you’re looking for evidence for God or the supernatural. You’ve set up a reality for yourself where there is no possibility for your mind to be changed.

      Talk about closed minded dogmatic blind allegiance.

  25. Jason writes: “Appealing to the supernatural means suspending all skepticism or intellectual responsibility in favor of just declaring that there can be no explained reason for such a thing other than ‘magic happened’ or ‘god did it’.”

    So are the laws of physics themselves “supernatural”? Obviously we don’t have an understanding of them. We use them to explain things – but we cannot explain the reason for laws themselves.

    We can explain how matter behaves. But we can’t explain the origin of matter itself.

    We can explain what energy does (how it acts on matter) – but we can’t even define exactly what it IS or where it came from or why it exists.

    We can explain morality and logic. But we can’t explain the origin of morality and logic.

    We can explain what information looks like and how to process it. (from text books to DNA) But can you really explain the origins of information?

    So then, are these things supernatural? If not, what distinguishes them from supernatural? Do you anticipate that these are questions that science can answer? Most people I’ve spoken with put these questions outside of the realm of science. Science identifies physical laws – it doesn’t explain the physical laws. At some level, we will just have to accept that our world “is” the way it “is” for no apparent reason. But isn’t this a copout? How is this really any different than saying “God did it”?

  26. Let me put this slightly differently. Imagine we are trapped in a huge building. We can walk around the building and explore it. We can tear into the walls and look at what is “behind” the visible parts of the building. As we explore, we draw a map of what we find. We are essentially re-constructing the blueprints of the building. We could spend years and years doing this until we have a precise understanding of the building – along with the exact blueprints.

    We have explained everything, right? Wrong. We’ve actually explained nothing. We’ve DESCRIBED everything – but we’ve really explained almost nothing.

    That’s the predicament of science. It does a great job at describing our physical world. But it does almost nothing for EXPLAINING the physical world.

    You claim that if we look outside the building, then it is supernatural. Fine. You can keep your eyes inside the building if you want. But don’t put yourself up on a pedestal and think that you somehow have an intellectually superior position. In fact, I would argue that you have an intellectually inferior position. You’ve actually suspended all your skepticism and intellectual responsibility in favor of just declaring that there can be no explained reason. Sound familiar?

  27. “Talk about closed minded dogmatic blind allegiance.”
    Ok:
    “So are the laws of physics themselves “supernatural”? Obviously we don’t have an understanding of them. We use them to explain things – but we cannot explain the reason for laws themselves.
    We can explain how matter behaves. But we can’t explain the origin of matter itself.
    We can explain what energy does (how it acts on matter) – but we can’t even define exactly what it IS or where it came from or why it exists.
    We can explain morality and logic. But we can’t explain the origin of morality and logic.
    We can explain what information looks like and how to process it. (from text books to DNA) But can you really explain the origins of information?

    We can explain all those things, but more importantly, we leave the option open and even try to explain it. “God did it” and other appeals to the “supernatural” are declarations of surrender. It’s an attitude of ignorance. In the 17th century, Tum would have said, “We can’t explain celestial gravitation. God did it. End of discussion or burn at the stake.” Today, Tum apparently recognizes all the advances of physics, but declares “We can explain how matter behaves. But we can’t explain the origin of matter itself.” Hopefully he’s not trying to burn anyone at the stake, but why block that opportunity. Why eliminate the possibility that we can explain the origin of matter. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. If we gain a better understanding of the substance of the universe, that ‘nothing’ that vibrates in one way to create an electron and in a different way to create a photon (or anti-electron or some other type of energy or matter) then maybe we can understand the origins of matter. Declaring the unknown to be “god” is lazy, especially when you just keep moving the goalposts (gravity) or denying (evolution) every time someone willing to do the work proves you wrong.

    But again, I don’t understand your aversion to the supernatural. I didn’t define “supernatural” as “unexplained” or “bad” or even “anything like god”. Saying we have more to learn about a topic is entirely different than saying something is 1) beyond our understanding and at the same time 2) entirely explained by one’s personal supernatural mythology (scripture, revelation, mythology, etc). Taking a supernatural attitude to the world, either 1 or 2 or both, is a commitment to ignorance.

    (Tum, I’m assuming you’re male. Sorry if I got it wrong.)

  28. “You claim that if we look outside the building, then it is supernatural.”
    Nope. Applying the commentary above to your building analogy, we’re both in the building, having the full blueprints. You’re saying, “we can’t understand what’s outside the building and shouldn’t look. We can never understand the building materials and it’s useless to try. We can never find and usefulness or meaning without contemplating what the builder wanted.” I’m saying, “It’s obviously a cave that wasn’t really ‘built’ per say and certainly doesn’t have a ‘purpose’ in your sense. There’s no evidence of that at all. Heck, this place is a poisonous, cold, dark death trap if we’re looking for the ‘purpose’. But I think it’s inspiring to look at the place. We can understand the materials and how everything came to be this way. We can look at what types of pressures created the rock and whether the openings between the rock generated by way of condensing, cooling rock or by way of erosion or gas eruption. I suppose some ancient civilization or ‘higher being’ might have chipped it away in this form, but there’s no evidence of that. The point is, let’s find out. Let’s keep looking. Nothing is off the table. Maybe we’ll be in a fantastical place called ‘outside’ one day. Seems like we could never get there, but maybe, if we keep looking we could do it.”
    All this is a perfectly good analogy for the universe we live in, mostly a poisonous cold dark death trap, but it has its charms.

  29. Jason writes: “We can explain all those things, but more importantly, we leave the option open and even try to explain it. ”

    Wait, wait, wait. You can explain the origins of matter and energy? Please do expound on that. I’m very curious about your explanation for them.

    But more importantly, I am still confused about your definition of “supernatural”. It seems to me that there are lots of concepts that would fit your definition of supernatural. Numbers are supernatural. Ideas are supernatural. Stories are supernatural. Information is supernatural. Logic is supernatural. Love is supernatural.

    Of course, you will retort that these are “abstract concepts” or “feelings”. Well, of course they are abstract. They have no physical reality (similar to God). But these “abstract concepts” have a significant amount of explanatory power. Do you discount any explanations that invoke them? How is the concept of “god” or “supernatural” different than these concepts? Please don’t use a popularity argument for them. I could easily use a popularity argument for God – but we both agree that it is invalid.

  30. “The point is, let’s find out. Let’s keep looking. Nothing is off the table. ”

    That’s rather funny. The explanations provided by most of the worlds populations are “off the table”. The only explanation you consider is one that includes only molecules. Yet all of humanity seems to have a sense that we are far more than just a walking bag of molecules. Evidence I provide leads me to leads me to believe that we have a glimps outside of the cave. (through the person of Jesus, miracles, our sense of joy, our sense of purpose, the appearance of design, the origins of information, the “magical” appearance of the universe about 13.7 billion years ago) But I guess all that evidence is “off the table”.

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