Argument From Evil is Weak

The modern day atheist movement has only one argument to actually support atheism – The Argument From Evil.  Anytime an atheist tries to make the case that there is no God, chances are extremely high that some version of the Argument from Evil will be used.  Some time ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson put it this way:

OK, if that god is described as being all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good, I don’t see evidence for it anywhere in the world. So I remain unconvinced. If that god is all-powerful and all-good, I don’t see that when a tsunami kills a quarter-million or an earthquake kills a quarter-million people. I’d like to think of good as something in the interest of your health or longevity. That’s a pretty simple definition of something that is good for you. That’s not a controversial understanding of the word “good.” So if Earth in two separate events separated by just a couple of years can kill a half-million people, then if the god as you describe exists, that god is either not all-powerful or not all-good. And so therefore I am not convinced.

Essentially what Tyson is saying here is that God cannot co-exist with tsunamis and earthquakes.  That God’s existence is incompatible with tsunamis and earthquakes.  Okay, so let’s imagine God did exist.  According to the atheist’s Argument From Evil, this would mean there would be no tsunamis and earthquakes.  So let’s imagine God magically changes our reality such that there are no tsunamis and earthquakes.  Has the Argument From Evil been neutralized?  Has it been taken off the table?

Not so fast.  Sam Harris tells us “There is No God (And You Know It).”  In fact, it’s “obvious” to him.  What makes it obvious?

Consider: the city of New Orleans was recently destroyed by hurricane Katrina. At least a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and over a million have been displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city?

Hurricane Katrina?  How could I forget?  Look, I thought that was supposed to be President Bush’s fault, but we’ll say Harris has a point.  Let’s say that if God did indeed exist, He would have magically stopped hurricane Katrina because God is all-good.  So, suppose He did.  Are we good now?  Of course not, since Harris could have cited countless other hurricanes.  Well then, let’s say God magically changes our reality such that there are no tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes.  Everything okay?  Please.

A world without tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes could still have still have people being killed by lightening, towns being destroyed by tornadoes, floods, droughts, forest fires, etc.  Put simply, the Argument from Evil tells us that if God exists, there should be no natural disasters.  None.  For as long as there is one person killed by one meteorological or geological process,  the Argument from Evil applies.

At this point, we can begin to see what the Argument from Evil is – a blueprint for what the world is supposed to be like if God exists.  According to atheists, that is.

So we must ask if the Argument from Evil still applies if we removed all those deadly natural disasters?  To answer that, we need only consult all the ways atheists have used the Argument from Evil over the ages.  And in doing so, we would find that a world without natural disasters is not good enough.  What about children dying of cancer?  What about parents dying of cancer? What about brothers, sisters, wives, and husbands dying of cancer?  Okay, let’s get rid of cancer.  Then what about heart disease, endocrine diseases, pulmonary diseases?  Let’s get rid of them.  But what about congenital defects and genetic diseases?  And all those nasty infectious diseases, like malaria or gangrene?  They all gotta go.  Look, we could drag this out for pages, for every disease is an Argument from Evil.  So all diseases must go.  According to atheists, if God exists, we would live in a world without any natural disasters and any diseases.

So let’s say that is the case.

But what about all the animal suffering?  Surely that most go also.  As Charles Darwin argued:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

Okay, okay, already.  No wasp larva living in caterpillars and no cats playing with mice.  In fact, no more predation or parasitism.  Period.  All gone.  Everything feeds on plants (I guess it’s not evil to kill plants).  Or maybe everything carries out photosynthesis.

Are we in the clear now?  In a world without natural disasters, disease, parasitism, and predation, can the Argument from Evil still apply?

You bet.  What about all the murders?  The rapes?  The kidnappings?  The war?  What about the abuse of children?  The abuse of animals?  The Holocaust?  The list of human evil is endless, as countless expressions of the Arguments from Evil  have drawn from this list.

Clearly, the Argument from Evil entails that no human-caused evil could exist.  In fact, the scalpel would have to cut pretty deep to get rid of this evil, as lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, greed, sexual harassment, etc. are all human evils that cause other humans to suffer.

So what do we have?  The Argument from Evil insists that if God were to exist, we would be living in a world without any natural disasters, any diseases, any parasitism or predation, any murder, rape, theft, abuse, or any other human evil.

But once you have reached this realization, the Argument from Evil becomes toothless.

For the world that we are supposed to be living sounds like a …….. Teletubbie World.

The Argument from Evil boils down to this: If there is a God, we should all be Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world.  Since we are not Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world, there is no God.

And at this point, the Argument from Evil is exposed as nothing more than subjective opinion.  For no atheist has ever shown it to be true that If there is a God, we should all be Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world.  That’s just their opinion and I would not agree.  Would you?  From my perspective, this world, with all its evil, is better than a Teletubbie-like world.

So we are left wondering –  Is the Argument from Evil the atheist’s way of expressing his/her desire to be a Teletubbie?

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81 Responses to Argument From Evil is Weak

  1. Ilíon says:

    Whether by ‘evil’, one means “moral wickedness”, or merely “pain and suffering”, no Argument From Evil can even stand on its own feet, much less get off the ground, without first assuming as its primary premise (*) that there is a “Way Things Ought To Be” ™ and that the ‘evil’ being used to indict God is a violation of this.(assumed) moral order.

    See, the thing is, in an Argument From Evil, any distinction between “moral wickedness” on the one hand, and “pain and suffering” on the other, is actually a distinction without a difference. For both versions of the argument are making a moral claim/assertion.

    But, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, there is no “Way Things Ought To Be”, and therefore there is no such category as ‘evil’ (nor ‘good’).

    (*) though, generally unstated or unacknowledged

  2. verbosestoic says:

    The Argument from Evil is clearly more of an emotional argument than a rational one, as those who advocate for it always pick some terrible thing and trigger the emotional response of “How could a loving being allow that thing?”. However, whenever they try to make it an argument, they always end up, at least as far as I can tell, making an argument that would go through your precise chain of reasoning: it applies to any evil and so would apply to all of them. Logically, if the Argument From Evil — really, at this point, the Argument From Suffering — would force the elimination of all suffering to be consistent, it’s not a very plausible argument.

  3. grodrigues says:

    The argument also implies that the atheist himself is a mistake since his existence is contingently dependent on a procession of suffering of God, part of a botched job. Or in other words, if God would have actualized a different world with no suffering there would be no Richard Dawkins. While the prospect is tantalizing, there would also be no me to enjoy it. Which not only highlights the absurdity of the argument but the inherent, inescapable nihilism of atheism, no matter the paliative bromides they sputter.

  4. The argument from evil hinges on the assumption that this life is all there is and therefore morality is based upon what will produce temporary pleasure and wellbeing before we die.

  5. Ilíon says:

    Verbosestoic:The Argument from Evil is clearly more of an emotional argument than a rational one …

    Indeed. The only reason the Argument from Evil is abe to maintain any currency is because many (most?) people decline to reason if they can get by with emoting. One can point out any number of ways in which it logically fails in its objective, and the next time the Matrix reboots, those who tout it will trot it out again.

    Grodrigues:The argument also implies that the atheist himself is a mistake since his existence is contingently dependent on a procession of suffering of God, part of a botched job. … Which not only highlights the absurdity of the argument but the inherent, inescapable nihilism of atheism, no matter the paliative bromides they sputter.

    That bears repeating.

    Grodrigues:… part of a botched job. Or in other words, if God would have actualized a different world with no suffering there would be no Richard Dawkins.

    If God had actualized a different world with no suffering, would not the first thing people do be to go out and create some suffering? Bot that I’m not even talking about the Fall of Adam (ot the Revolt of Satan). I’m talking about what we all observe in those around us, and in our own selves — when (human) persons are too happy, too comfortable, too safe, they get bored and then unhappy. And so they go out of their way to stir up some trouble — men stir up physical danger, women pick emotional danger (i.e. ‘drama‘).

    The Roller Coaster and the Ferris Wheel, to say nothing of Bungee Jumping, and even the child’s Merry-Go-Round, exist only because (human) persons get bored when thay are safe.

    The rancid SJW phenonenon can be understood as being, in large part, the revolt of very safe, very comfortable people against that safety and comfort. It’s the feminine propensity to create ‘drama‘ writ large.

    N2C:The argument from evil hinges on the assumption that this life is all there is and therefore morality is based upon what will produce temporary pleasure and wellbeing before we die.

    And the atheistic “solution” to evil, whether of suffering, or of wickedness, is to declare that the evil doesn’t really matter … and that the wickedness doesn’t even exist, in the first place.

    You may have seen video of the English actor Stephen Fry (*) in fine fettle putting God in the dock (with himself acting as both prosecutor and judge … and as the court appointed defense!) for all the natural/physical pain and suffering in the world; blind children (**), children dying of cancer, animals eating one another (alive!), and so on. Yet, in the end, were his tirade an effective and logical disproof of the reality of God, would any of those suffering beings be any better off? Of course not: for not only would they still suffer, but that would also have no ground on which to complain that the suffering is unjust, nor any Judge who can set things to rights to whom to complain.

    (*) Oh, my! I just learned that he was born on the very same day as I was. So much for the alignment of the stars at one’s birth influencing one’s life.

    (**) as an aside, for all Fry’s tender solicitude for the lives of suffering children, what do you think the odds are that he’s a doctrinaire abortion advocate?

  6. Archon's Den says:

    Like the many Christians who insist that all atheists insist that there is no God, when most of them only claim to see no such proof, you’ve turned the abortion issue on its ear as well. It is highly doubtful that Fry runs around, telling pregnant women that they should get an abortion. Instead, he probably advocates that those who are not pregnant, refrain from telling those who are, what they can and should do. 😯

  7. Ilíon says:

    How cool is this? An intellectually dishonest atheist (that’s redundant, by the way) has shown up to lie about what I wrote, despite that *anyone* can read it for themselves (and also to lie about what Christians say that ‘atheism means … which, after all, still means what it has always meant.)

  8. Kevin says:

    when most of them only claim to see no such proof

    Most atheists who believe there is no God claim to merely lack belief so they can avoid having to justify their position. The atheists who actually do merely lack belief don’t spend their time online attacking Christianity and belief in God.

  9. Dhay says:

    With small tweaks (or perhaps no tweaks at all), this quote from a British atheist…

    It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.

    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/706825-it-s-now-very-common-to-hear-people-say-i-m-rather

    …probably applies also to any who reject God because they are offended by the existence of suffering.

  10. grodrigues says:

    @Archon’s Den:

    “Like the many Christians who insist that all atheists insist that there is no God, when most of them only claim to see no such proof, you’ve turned the abortion issue on its ear as well.”

    I suppose you can use words any way you like it, but to pretend that atheism does not mean, historically, from the Greek materialists like Democritus to 20th century existentialist atheists like Sartre, the denial that God exists is unfettered ignorance and intellectual dishonesty. From the “lack of proof” nothing follows, just as nothing relevant follows from the fact that there is no proof that God does not exist. Since existencial statements and their negations are on a logical par, by the same logic one could call himself a theist just by claiming that there is no proof that God does not exist, which is absurd.

    Atheism is clearly a proposition; what you describe is barely the subject of discussion since what counts as evidence or proof for God’s existence is never made explicit, so it can be tailor made to fit the wearer’s intellectual dishonesty: he never has to make a stand and defend his position, but just keep raising the evidential bar to unreasonable heights and then claim victory and that “there is no proof”. But I guess this is all for the best. Clearly, there is no use discussing anything with you since you know nothing and could not reason your way out of a paper bag if your life depended on it.

  11. grodrigues says:

    @Íllion:

    “If God had actualized a different world with no suffering, would not the first thing people do be to go out and create some suffering?”

    I do not see why that has to be so. It certainly is not the case of the blessed in Heaven. I also do not think it is impossible for God to have actualized worlds with no suffering — and one should remind oneself that suffering, in its primordial physical aspect is *just* a biological *defense* mechanism, so it is doubly ironic for someone like Richard Dawkins to raise the problem — but at any rate that is not the thrust of my argument. A world with no suffering, possible or not possible, is also a world without those pesky, obnoxious whiners like Frye and Dawkins. I take this to be a performative contradiction; it does not rise to a contradiction because the argument is usually formulated as a reductio. But then it shows the inescapable, inherent nihilism in atheism.

  12. Ilíon says:

    I do not see why that has to be so.

    It doesn’t *have* to be that way: there is no logical necessity that we be the sort of beings who cause ourselves and others problems when we get bored with safety and comfort; nevertheless, we that *is* the way we are.

    In that post, I had meant also to say that “if God would have actualized a different world with no suffering“, then his creatures would have to be a very different sort of being that they are … which echos Michael’s point in the OP.

  13. Brian says:

    If I’m wearing my glasses AND my seat belt is fastened, then I’m ready to drive. From this it does not follow that if I’m wearing my glasses then I’m ready to drive.

    If P1 and P2 together imply C, that does not mean that P1 alone implies C, or that P2 alone implies C.

    You’ve taken a very large number of premises, call them P1,P2,…,Pn, and have shown that (P1 and P2 and P3 and … and Pn) imply C. What you haven’t shown is that, say, P1 implies C.

    Take, say, a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. Is God willing to prevent it, 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 why should a child suffer an agonizing death from a congenital disorder?

    Your argument does not address this problem.

  14. John Branyan says:

    @Brian: “Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.”

    Your conclusion assumes God cannot have a good reason for allowing suffering. Malevolence is not the only possible motive.

  15. Ilíon says:

    ^ He also assumes that we who suffer in this present life will not, in the World to Come, consider that suffering to be a part of our lives we would not wish to excise. Consider an analogy: women suffer pain in childbirth, and yet most women actually do desire to have a second and even a third child, for the pain is a small thing in comparison to the joy gained thereby.

  16. grodrigues says:

    “You’ve taken a very large number of premises, call them P1,P2,…,Pn, and have shown that (P1 and P2 and P3 and … and Pn) imply C. What you haven’t shown is that, say, P1 implies C.”

    If Brian’s post, and this sentence in particular, is meant as a characterization of the argument of the OP then he is either unable to read or unwilling to read. But hey, it is couched in the language of propositional calculus so he must be onto something, right? Wrong.

  17. Ilíon says:

    Because I suffer, because those I love more than I can express suffer, I am learning just what a great thing Christ is doing in the Creation. I am learning what love is: I am being made ready to live in the face-to-face presence of Love himself. Had God created a world in which suffering is impossible (*), how could we understand/appreciate the perfection of Heaven.

    (*) which is actually logically impossible in a world in which change occurs; that is, changing world is incomplete, it is imperfect.

  18. Dhay says:

    Brian > … You’ve taken a very large number of premises, call them P1,P2,…,Pn, and have shown that (P1 and P2 and P3 and … and Pn) imply C. What you haven’t shown is that, say, P1 implies C. …

    I’m missing the force of this argument because I cannot work out what it might be that you claim was being logical-AND’d (in the OP? in a reply?) Would you please itemise what (P1 and P2 and P3 and … and Pn) actually are.

  19. Dhay says:

    For better clarity, I’ll re-write: Would you please itemise what P1, P2, P3, … Pn) actually are.

  20. Valtandor says:

    Take, say, a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. Is God … able [to prevent it], but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

    OK, so suppose the Creator and Sustainer of all things is “malevolent” (meaning, presumably, that his top priority is not the complete prevention and elimination of all suffering). Well, so what? Does he thereby stop being God?

    I think it would be a pretty lame philosophy that says a Deity is only worthy of worship if that Deity happens to run the universe in the exact way the prospective worshipper wanted, or even in any of several ways the prospective worshipper might deign to approve of. God doesn’t need our approval, and I think it’s pretty clear that our disapproval doesn’t matter to him. Is God supposed to be a trained dog or a performing seal, doing tricks in the hope that people will throw him a bone, sorry, a hymn or sacrifice every now and then?

    I grant that it would be emotionally satisfying, at least in the short term, if no being ever suffered except as a direct and proportionate response to a careless, reckless or malicious act or omission by that same being. But I can easily see how that could cause a lot more problems than the world’s actual configuration.

  21. Brian says:

    I can elaborate a little more. The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World:

    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World

    From this it does not follow that

    (not E1) implies Teletubby World

    The removal of all those evils is what makes Teletubby World. But that says nothing about the removal of one evil. Hence the argument fails to address what is really at the center of the problem of evil:

    Take, say, a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. Is God willing to prevent it, 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 why should a child suffer an agonizing death from a congenital disorder?

    Because it is virtually impossible to look at the argument from evil without encountering Epicurus, I assumed folks would recognize that I was quoting him (well technically, the common translation of him). If you don’t like “malevolent” then please file a complaint at the Department of Insolent Ancient Greeks.

  22. grodrigues says:

    @Brian:

    “I can elaborate a little more. The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World:

    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World”

    This is *not* the argument in the OP. Michael, when proceeding through a list of evils, is not stacking up conjuncts and then drawing an inference from the Big Conjunctive Fact; once again, that is just a complete inability to grasp the logical structure of the argument and rather an exercise of force-fitting a fallacy where there is none.

  23. Valtandor says:

    Brian, I knew you were quoting (the commonly cited translation of) Epicurus when you used the word, “malevolent.” I haven’t yet seen his statement in the original Greek, and I’m not an Ancient Greek scholar in any case. So I can’t say that translation is inaccurate. What I will say is that anyone who uses it — attributing ill-will to God merely because he allows suffering in general, or any specific class or instance of suffering — is both jumping to unwarranted conclusions about God’s motives and presuming to be God’s moral and intellectual superior.

    Also, let’s grant that a person’s objection to (really, taking offence at) a particular class or instance of suffering — in your case, the child with the painful congenital disorder — is not thereby objecting to all classes or instances of suffering. Very well. Can you give examples of suffering that you personally find inoffensive, such that you would leave them to happen if, armed with Godlike powers, you were going around cleaning up all other forms of suffering?

  24. Ilíon says:

    Valtandor:OK, so suppose the Creator and Sustainer of all things is “malevolent” (meaning, presumably, that his top priority is not the complete prevention and elimination of all suffering). Well, so what? Does he thereby stop being God?

    Well, yes; if it were the case that the creator of the world is ‘malevolent’ — which is a term of moral judgment with a strong emotive aspect — it would be the case that said creator is not God, for *God* — “the ground of all being”, aka “Being Itself” — cannot be wicked/immoral. But, that (alleged) fact does not successfully deny the proposition that “God is”.

    This is what a recent demand (“differentiate between the world as a Creation of God and the world as a Computer Simulation“) by one of the trolls who posts drivel here amounts to.

    Nevertheless, even were the Argument from Evil able to successfully establish that the creator of the world is wicked, the argument still fails on multiple levels, both in attaining its aim (i.e. the denial that “God is”) and on rational and logical grounds, some of which are —

    It never can establish that the denial of “God is” is true; in that regard, the best it can do, if one doesn’t look too closely at the logical flaws of the whole thing, is to justify some sort of rude gnosticism/manichaeism.

    And as a logical argument, it still self-defeats —
    * on the one extreme, if it is to be successful in attaining its objective of denying that “God is”, it must also logically deny its primary premise (i.e. that “there is a way things ought to be”, that is, that morality is real, objective, universal and transcendant). Thus, if the argument is true, it is false. This is absurd, of course.
    * or, at best, it devolves into an Infinite Regress, which doesn’t solve anything, neither with respect to the proposition that “God is”, nor with respect to the argument’s own moral accusation against the creator of the world.

    To put it bluntly, the argument is fatally flawed because at least one of its premises is false.

    Valtandor:

    Valtandor:I grant that it would be emotionally satisfying, at least in the short term, if no being ever suffered except as a direct and proportionate response to a careless, reckless or malicious act or omission by that same being. But I can easily see how that could cause a lot more problems than the world’s actual configuration.

    Indeed. One problem is limiting the consequences of a person’s acts to himself — in the end, each person would have to be a separate world unto himself.

  25. Michael says:

    I can elaborate a little more. The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World:
    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World

    It’s or, not and.

    According to the Argument from Evil, E1, or E2, or E3, or…..En all tell us God is either weak or mean. Any E will do. You yourself demonstrate this with the arbitrary nature of your chosen example – a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. It could have just as easily been a child that suffers an agonizing death due to an infectious disease. Or a mother of 3 little kids who dies in child birth. Or a loving father who is killed because of a drunk driver. Or puppies and kittens caught in a house fire. Etc.

    Why do you pull out E1 as if it is unconnected to the mass of E’s? E1 is, after all, interchangeable with so many other Es (although some give more of an emotional heart tug, so there are psychological reasons for picking one).

    Because of the interchangeable/connected essence of all the various E’s, it is irrational to treat them otherwise. It makes no sense to arbitrarily select one and pretend it’s all about this one. Because it’s not. If E1 tells us God is either weak or mean, then all the Es say the same. That’s what we need to address. If the Argument from Evil is to tell us God is either weak or mean because of E1, or E2, or E3, or….En, the only way to negate this conclusion is to get rid of all of the E’s. Since getting rid of only one would not change a thing as far as the Argument from Evil is concerned, it is a sneaky “head fake” to focus on just one.

    The Argument From Evil tells that if there is a God, neither E1, nor E2, nor E3, nor …….En should exist. The Teletubby world.

    Or look at it this way. We can rephrase the Argument from Evil. If God is supposed to be good and all-powerful, then God’s existence is incompatible with evil. Thus, God’s existence means evil should not exist. Which means a Teletubby world should exist.

  26. Dhay says:

    “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 misses out, “Is he willing, but not able?” I presume that the famous Trilemma is not wonderful philosophy if a non-philosopher like me can point out something is obviously missing.

    It also misses out: “Is he willing, able or both but it’s best not to?”; which has “best for God” and “best for people” variants, has a Sam Harris style “best for all sentient beings” variant, and probably has yet another variant should panpsychism have merit. In commenting on this and its variants we need not and should not ascribe malevolence; indifference (at worst) or benevolence fit better.

    No doubt a competent philosopher would find yet more shortcomings with the Trilemma.

  27. After I read this post about unbelievers essentially wanting a teletubbie world, and as I was pouring myself a bowl of cereal, I had a sudden epiphany-like realization/question: Is it possible that when unbelievers use the term “Sky-Daddy,” they are actually projecting their psychology onto believers–at least to some extent? Projecting in the sense that they feel that God should be a daddy, and protect them from all evils, rather than God being a father, who gives his children character-building hardships, pains, and challenges. In essence, they want God to be like a daddy with a 3-year-old, rather than a father with adult children. And because they want this, and don’t see it, they then use the term in a mocking way.

    Granted, I cannot read minds, and this is just speculation, but it really did strike me as a plausible possibility. Interesting to think about either way.

    Best,

    Rad M.

  28. Brian says:

    Michael, OK, let’s join them with “or”:

    (not E1) or (not E2) or … or (not En) implies Teletubby World

    Somewhere in the world a child just suffered an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. Consider only the death of this one child. Ej is true for some j.

    Now consider a world in which this child’s death did not occur, a world in which Ej is false. Now not-Ej is true, and according to the above proposition with the series of “or”s, we get Teletubby World.

    But the prevented death of this one child does not transform the world as we know it into Teletubby World. This is especially true for the billions of people unaware of the nondeath, but even for the close family, who are overjoyed that the child survived and go on with their lives in the world as we know it.

    You need to remove all those evils E1,E2,…,En in order to make Teletubby World. In other words, their negations are joined by “and”, not “or”.

  29. TFBW says:

    Brian said, “you need to remove all those evils E1,E2,…,En in order to make Teletubby World.”

    Yes, that is the claim of the OP. Your complaint was that if God is unable to remove a particular Ex, then he’s not omnipotent, or if he’s able but not willing to remove a particular Ex, then he’s malevolent. Thus, the existence of Ex is an argument against the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. However, if this rule applies to all E generally, then God must eliminate all E1…En in order to demonstrate omnipotence and benevolence. In other words, your argument implies that if God is omnipotent and benevolent, He would make Teletubby world.

    If you want to escape this conclusion, you’ll need to show that your Epicurean argument does not apply to all E, generally. You could do this by citing an example, or explaining the limiting principle.

    For my part, I reject the offered criteria for malevolence. It’s childish. In order to demonstrate non-benevolence, one must know the outcomes of the actions in question, and demonstrate that the best net outcome has not been reached. I can understand why people might view certain evils as unnecessary, and thus attribute malice to God for allowing them, but I can also understand why children might view a parent who does not meet their reasonable demands for toys and sweets as cruel. In each case, one party is working at a significant information and wisdom disadvantage.

  30. grodrigues says:

    “Michael, OK, let’s join them with “or”:”

    That is not what Michael is doing.

    Pathetic.

  31. Brian says:

    There are two separate issues. The first is the classic problem of evil itself. I’m not interested in debating that on its own, as if I have something new to say which has not already been said by others over the past couple thousand years.

    The second issue is the particular argument in the OP. I can address that.

    The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World:

    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World

    [Michael:] It’s or, not and.

    However joining them with “or”,

    (not E1) or (not E2) or (not E3) … or (not En) implies Teletubby World

    means the removal of just one evil implies Teletubby World. By use of an example, I argued that the removal of just one evil from the world as we know it does not result in Teletubby World (I think virtually everybody can agree on that). This defeats the argument in the OP.

  32. TFBW says:

    Brian, I just showed that your Epicurean argument from evil leaves Teletubby world as the only alternative. If there’s an error in that argument, please elaborate. If not, what’s your point, exactly?

  33. Michael says:

    However joining them with “or”,

    (not E1) or (not E2) or (not E3) … or (not En) implies Teletubby World

    means the removal of just one evil implies Teletubby World. By use of an example, I argued that the removal of just one evil from the world as we know it does not result in Teletubby World (I think virtually everybody can agree on that). This defeats the argument in the OP.

    Okay, I think this now shows that Brian is not making honest efforts to understand the argument of his opponent, but is instead looking to score cheap debate points (kinda like a troll).

    Obviously, I’m not dumb enough to think that removal of just one evil from the world results in a Teletubby World.

    My use of “or” is spelled out in the paragraph that immediately follows the part Brian quotes.

    It’s or, not and.

    According to the Argument from Evil, E1, or E2, or E3, or…..En all tell us God is either weak or mean. Any E will do. You yourself demonstrate this with the arbitrary nature of your chosen example – a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. It could have just as easily been a child that suffers an agonizing death due to an infectious disease. Or a mother of 3 little kids who dies in child birth. Or a loving father who is killed because of a drunk driver. Or puppies and kittens caught in a house fire. Etc.

    TFBW clearly understood my point in his reply to you, so you should check it out, as it is nicely and succinctly explained.

  34. Isaac says:

    “I’d like to think of good as something in the interest of your health or longevity. That’s a pretty simple definition of something that is good for you. That’s not a controversial understanding of the word “good.””

    Tyson ought to be able to spot himself making a common logical fallacy (in this case, the Appeal to Majority.) Yes, that may not be a controversial understanding of the word “good,” but that doesn’t make it a logical one. It’s not even well thought-out.

    1. The Argument from Evil, in ALL forms, must make untestable and unprovable assumptions about what objectively constitutes “good.” This makes it immediately dismissible.

    2. The Argument from Evil does not even address hotly debated questions of morality, ethics, and philosophy that would contradict the very simplistic definition of “good” that they assume when making the argument. Are comfort and safety more important than freedom and independence? Is it moral to make all behaviors equally devoid of risk? Would life become an unbearable hell without adversity? Is goodness no longer good in the absence of evil? Does the amount of suffering in the world produce an equal or even greater amount of compassion and good? Would human goodwill exist without suffering? The Argument from Evil must ignore that such questions even exist in order to remain valid. This is a fatal flaw.

    3. The Argument from Evil is self-defeating anyway. As other commenters have pointed out, there is no logical path to an objective “good or “evil” in any atheist worldview. Even Tyson’s view of goodness as “in the interest of your health or longevity” is nonsense in his own view of the universe. Uncreated, purposeless creatures who developed solely because of evolutionary processes did so by competing with, killing, and stealing from both their own species and others (and assuming no God, there is no substantive difference between species either.) Caring for another’s well-being cannot be put into a category of “good” in any objective sense; only in the imagination. Thus the Argument from Evil becomes an absurd question as soon as you accept its conclusion.

  35. Isaac says:

    “By use of an example, I argued that the removal of just one evil from the world as we know it does not result in Teletubby World (I think virtually everybody can agree on that). This defeats the argument in the OP.”

    Okay.

    Michael Holmes fell 12,000 feet when his parachute didn’t open. But he survived by fortuitously landing in a lucky patch of brambles in between a deadly body of water and a parking lot. Instead of dying a grisly death, sending his loved ones into a season of unimaginable pain…he made a full recovery and returned to his career as a skydiving instructor.

    There you have it. The world was spared exactly one evil, and in miraculous fashion. Obviously, not enough to put us into a Teletubby world, but it satisfies Brian’s criteria, so I trust that he now believes that God is good.

  36. Ilíon says:

    Isaac drew my attention to this: “… I’d like to think of good as something in the interest of your health or longevity. That’s a pretty simple definition of something that is good for you. That’s not a controversial understanding of the word “good.” …

    Tyson is employing equivocation — which is an act most definitely at odds with any goal of sound reasoning.

    A good’ is not ‘the good’.

    One cannot correctly judge whether one exampe of an alleged good is indeed good by asking whether it conforms to some other, and not diectly related, alleged good. One must test whether it conforms to the appropriate standard of ‘goodness’. And, ultimately, these appropriate standards are derivative of or rely upon an understanding of ‘the good’.

    Worse, one cannot even begin to judge whether ‘the good’ is indeed good by asking whether it conforms to some alleged instance of ‘a good’. One might as well try to judge whether one’s 12-inch ruler is indeed 12-inches by holding it to one’s foot.

  37. Ilíon says:

    Uncreated, purposeless creatures who developed solely because of evolutionary processes

    An amusing thing to me is that phrase, “evolutionary process(es)”, which is used by everyone, including the members of the Darwinist Inquisition (*).

    See, ‘process’, like ‘progress’, is inherently teleological. One can’t make progress without movement toward an intended goal; and one can’t have a process without a defined set of state-changes toward an intended end-state. .

    (*) now known as ‘The Society for the Propagation of The Faith’

  38. Ilíon says:

    Isaac:The Argument from Evil, in ALL forms, must make untestable and unprovable assumptions about what objectively constitutes “good.” This makes it immediately dismissible.

    All argumentation “must make [certain] untestable and unprovable assumptions.”

    All dictionary definitions are ultimately circular; though, in general, the smaller the particular circle, the less robust the particular definiton. Definitions of words work by reminding one of, and tying into, “what one knows-because-one-knows“.

    Similarly, logical argument — and logic itself — rests upon “what one knows-because-one-knows“. As one example, there is no possible test by which one may judge the “Principle of Non-Contradiction.” The PNC *is* the test; other things must conform to *it*.

  39. Ilíon says:

    There you have it. The world was spared exactly one evil, and in miraculous fashion. Obviously, not enough to put us into a Teletubby world, but it satisfies Brian’s criteria, so I trust that he now believes that God is good.

    *gasp*

    I guess we must welcome our new fellow “theist”, and leave his past behavior in the past.

  40. Brian says:

    If you’re ever in the mood to hear poor argumentation, tune in to The Atheist Experience. The premise of the show, which pits the self-appointed Rational against callers whom they consider Deluded, virtually guarantees that poor argumentation will occur. If a Deluded caller makes a point, then, well, he’s Deluded so it’s only a matter of figuring out why. Any reason will do. The reason may not stand up to the slightest critical examination, but that is of no concern. The Deluded guy got pwned, and that’s all that matters. The presence of the audience ensures confident self-satisfaction all around.

    Such a dynamic may happen anywhere and in different contexts, including, say, blogs where the dichotomy may not be Deluded vs Rational, but Bad vs Good or Shadow vs Light.

    Perhaps we have different interests. My interest is in looking at philosophical arguments. Your interest may be to pwn the other side and to demonstrate the power of Light against Shadow, undeterred by the quality of the arguments being made.

    The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World:

    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World

    [Michael:] It’s or, not and.

    Your paragraph after that only appears to confirm you meant joining with “or”.

    Obviously, I’m not dumb enough to think that removal of just one evil from the world results in a Teletubby World.

    I didn’t believe that you thought that, however it did appear you didn’t realize that that is implication of joining with “or”s, per “It’s or, not and”.

    That you launched a personal attack at this point suggests an interest of the second kind mentioned above, one of putting aside the quality of philosophical argumentation to pwn atheists.

    Virtually 100% (probably exactly 100%) of independent parties would interpret “It’s or, not and” in exactly the way I did, especially in light of the paragraph that followed it. I may demonstrate this by posting the question to an independent forum such as philosophy stackexchange.

    I interpreted your words reasonably and appropriately. Your personal attack is utterly out of place. If you double down on it, I will guess your interest is of the second kind. It doesn’t actually matter how many suspicious accounts show up to rail against the obvious (per the second interest).

    If your interest is of the first kind, then you should listen to criticism because the peanut gallery is not helping you in this regard (indeed it causes skills to atrophy).

    I notice a lot of grandiosity, generally.

    Consider the possibility that maybe—just maybe—you haven’t solved the problem of evil and haven’t achieved what nobody else has for over two thousand years in one short blog post.

    Consider the possibility that being mistaken about something as simple as “and” vs “or” is not the end of the world. We are all human and we all make mistakes.

    Consider the possibility that making a mistake and being corrected by an atheist does not mean that atheism is true and theism false.

    Consider the possibility that launching a personal attack in response to criticism only makes your argument look weak, not to mention making you yourself look weak and petty.

    Consider the possibility that your writing is misunderstood because it was poorly written and/or contains mistakes, not because a reader has malign intent.

  41. Brian says:

    Now to the argument TFBW makes. He seems to agree that the negations are joined with “and”:

    (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) and … and (not En) implies Teletubby World

    The difference is that the evils are eliminated one by one until we finally arrive at the above statement. This brings us back to the sorites paradox we saw in the Coyne thread. The case here is critically undermined by

    I’m not dumb enough to think that removal of just one evil from the world results in a Teletubby World.

    So one child somewhere in the world being spared death does not make Teletubby World. But once this is admitted, it is difficult to conceive that two children being spared death would make Teletubby World, and so forth.

    The interesting thing here is that the opposite horn of the sorites paradox is being claimed in comparison to the Coyne thread.

    Broadly speaking, the gist of the Coyne thread is that the lack of an exact criteria separating two concepts renders them indistinguishable. Because there is no exact criteria that separates sonoluminescence from a Jesus figure descending from the clouds and healing amputees, there are no grounds for saying that one is better evidence of God than the other. They are just indistinguishable amorphous unknowns.

    Now, in this thread, we are told that the removal of all evils is Teletubby World, yet the removal of one evil is not Teletubby World. The very opposite answer to the sorites paradox. But per the Coyne thread, without an exact criteria separating Teletubby World from non-Teletubby World, we are not permitted to make the distinction.

    Becoming familiar with the sorties paradox and the various responses to it would likely lead to a more fruitful conversation.

  42. Brian says:

    I’m not dumb enough to think that removal of just one evil from the world results in a Teletubby World.

    And finally, this leads us back to the original point I made: the OP provides no resolution to the problem of evil because it doesn’t tell us anything about a single given evil, which is really what everyone wants to know.

    Child: So you’re just going to watch me die?

    God: Yup.

    C: But you could rescue me.

    G: Indeed I could.

    C: But you won’t.

    G: That’s right.

    C: Because of Teletubby World?

    G: Right again. If I rescued you, I would be forced to transform the world into Teletubby World.

    C: Who’s forcing you?

    G: The force of logic.

    C: You won’t rescue me because of the force of logic?

    G: Right-o, kiddo.

    C: But I am your creation. I love you. Do you love me?

    G: Of course.

    C: Can you rescue me and also not transform the world into Teletubby World?

    G: I can.

    C: …So?

    G: So?

    C: So could you do that? I love my life. I love my family. I love my friends. I love this world. I love doing good. I love YOU. I have done nothing wrong. I just have a disease. Am I not worth rescuing? I am your child. You won’t rescue me?

    G: Sssh, my sweet child. Time to die.

  43. Kevin says:

    without an exact criteria separating Teletubby World from non-Teletubby World, we are not permitted to make the distinction.

    Except there is an exact criteria that has already been pointed out. The existence of even ONE evil is no longer Teletubby world, and it would be used as evidence against God (if God was all powerful and all good, then he would not allow this evil). So the choice becomes either Teletubby world, with no evil, or no Christian god so long as even one evil exists.

    With the Coyne thread, on the other hand, no criteria has been given. We may all share a vague notion of the difference between a burst of light and a healing, but there are other examples that become murkier, such as my suddenly speaking Farsi fluently. Would an atheist accept that as a miracle? Absolutely not, they would just accuse me of having secretly studied it. Would the atheist be wrong in that example? Yes, because their system of analysis between a miraculous unknown and a non-miraculous unknown would only allow my speaking another language to fall into the miraculous category if they could somehow verify my every waking moment my entire life. So long as a possible natural explanation exists, the miraculous is rejected.

    And that is the essence of what we are getting at regarding Coyne. Some miracles are more miraculous than others, so what would be the line? You make a career attacking others for crossing the line, you should be able to define it.

  44. Ilíon says:

    assertion:… without an exact criteria separating Teletubby World from non-Teletubby World, we are not permitted to make the distinction

    refutation:Except there is an exact criteria that has already been pointed out. The existence of even ONE evil is no longer Teletubby world, and it would be used as evidence against God…

    *All* God-deniers are intellectually dishonest.

  45. FZM says:

    Becoming familiar with the sorties paradox and the various responses to it would likely lead to a more fruitful conversation.

    Is the Sorites paradox applicable in these specific cases? They both seem to revolve around God’s omni-attributes; for God to be what Christians call God he must have the omni-attributes. In the thread about miracles if it turns out that there is any coherent empirical state of affairs that a vastly powerful being cannot bring about, it is not omnipotent and therefore not what Christians and Muslims call God. It seems for the Sorites paradox to be relevant here you would need to choose a definition of omnipotence that makes it into a more vague concept.

    In the argument from evil thread, you can say that the underlying idea behind what Tyson de Grasse was saying is the logical problem of evil; that God being omnipotent and very good, his goodness entails that he acts to eliminate all the evil he is capable of eliminating, because of his omnipotence this is all evil. The existence of any instance of evil is therefore proof that the Christian God doesn’t exist. Modifying that to become the evidential problem of evil the Sorites may be more relevant because whether some known instance of evil is evidence for or against the existence of an all-good God may be vaguer.

    Then if you add a moral obligation for God to do good, not just prevent evil (which seems appropriate) similar questions apply, any failure of God to produce a maximally perfect world seems to be conclusive proof that God doesn’t exist, or various instances of the world not seeming to be as good as it could be can be discussed as potential evidence that an all-good God doesn’t exist.

    But generally in Christian theology there has been a tendency to emphasise the absolute nature of God and God’s attributes, so there will be a question over making them vague.

  46. Ilíon says:

    The thing about paradoxen is that they arise only due to errors of logic: either, most often, in premises or, less often, in reasoning from those premises.

  47. grodrigues says:

    “Then if you add a moral obligation for God to do good, not just prevent evil (which seems appropriate) similar questions apply, any failure of God to produce a maximally perfect world seems to be conclusive proof that God doesn’t exist”

    As the resident Thomist I have to protest and state that the Orthodox, classical tradition, for the most part, rejects the two underlying assumptions: that God has moral obligations (or a tad more precisely, has moral obligations like we do) or that a maximally perfect world exists. And this is the most frustrating part in this discussion: Brian inveighs Michael with a straight face that:

    “Consider the possibility that maybe—just maybe—you haven’t solved the problem of evil and haven’t achieved what nobody else has for over two thousand years in one short blog post.”

    without considering that maybe, just maybe, his objections are not worth the internet ink they have spent and that he knows jack about philosophy and theology, or logic for that matter. His protest that “My interest is in looking at philosophical arguments”, and not, perhaps he avers, like Michael to “pwn the other side and to demonstrate the power of Light against Shadow, undeterred by the quality of the arguments being made” sounds hollow.

  48. Ilíon says:

    FZM:… for [a being] to be what Christians call God he must have the omni-attributes. In the thread about miracles if it turns out that there is any coherent empirical state of affairs that a vastly powerful being cannot bring about, it [said being] is not omnipotent and therefore not what Christians and Muslims call God. It seems for the Sorites paradox to be relevant here you would need to choose a definition of omnipotence that makes it into a more vague concept.

    It seems to me that one would have to use the “definition” of ‘omnipotence’ which is at play when one gotcha-asks, “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?

    The concept of God’s ‘omnipotence’ does not extend into the illogical (*).

    FZM:In the argument from evil thread, you can say that the underlying idea behind what Tyson de Grasse was saying is the logical problem of evil; that God being omnipotent and very good, his goodness entails that he acts to eliminate all the evil he is capable of eliminating, because of his omnipotence this is all evil. The existence of any instance of evil is therefore proof that the Christian God doesn’t exist … any failure of God to produce a maximally perfect world seems to be conclusive proof that God doesn’t exist …

    One unacknowledged — and false — assumption in this is that the concatination of God’s perfect power with his perfect goodness entails that he can-and-must *right now* eliminate ‘evil’, And another is that the demander that ‘evil’ be eliminated *right now* is competent to judge on the matter.

    Now, a “maximally perfect world” is a world in which change is impossible. Said another way: from *our* perspective, a “maximally perfect world” is a *dead* world. Thus, if God’s goal in the Creation is a living world, a world in which change is possible, then ‘evil’ just is a necessary part of that world. Which is to say, if God’s goal in the Creation is a living world, then the demand that he eliminate ‘evil’ *right now* just is the demand that he create an in-coherent empirical state of affairs.

    Why can’t God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?

    GRodrigues:As the resident Thomist I have to protest and state that the Orthodox, classical tradition, for the most part, rejects the two underlying assumptions: that God has moral obligations (or a tad more precisely, has moral obligations like we do) or that a maximally perfect world exists.

    A “maximally perfect world” is not a world in which any human being wants to live … nor could, should he want.

    Moral obligations exist only between persons, and only between persons in some sort of relation. That is, the relation determines the obligations. A father has a different set of obligation to his son than the son does to the father. A ruler has a different set of obligation to his subjects than the subjects do to the ruler. The God has a different set of obligation to his creatures than the creatures do to the God.

    Furthermore, morality, and thus any set of moral obligations, is simply the out-working of love — and the demand that God eliminate ‘evil’ *right now* just is the demand that he violate his love for his creatures.

    (*) To be more precise, the Christian conception of God’s ‘omnipotence’ does not extend into the illogical. On the other hand, the Islamic conception of Allah’s ‘omnipotence’ does.

  49. TFBW says:

    Brian said:

    And finally, this leads us back to the original point I made: the OP provides no resolution to the problem of evil because it doesn’t tell us anything about a single given evil, which is really what everyone wants to know.

    The OP does not intend to provide a resolution to the problem of evil. The point of the OP is that the only way to rid the world of evil is to have Teletubby World, so if you claim that the existence of evil precludes the existence of God, a logical corollary of your claim is that God could only be the God of Teletubby World. If that seems absurd to you, then you need to figure out where you went wrong in your premises, because it’s the logical implication of those premises.

    You haven’t actually disputed this, but you’ve tried to weasel your way out of it with “blah blah Sorites Paradox blah blah,” as though this were in the same category of problems as, “how many grains make a heap?” You throw “a single given evil” in the face of God, but unless there is Teletubby World, there will necessarily be some single, given evil that you can throw in the face of God. If it weren’t for this one terrible evil over here which you pretend is the only one that really matters, it would be some other terrible evil. Any one evil, no matter how mild, is one single evil that one could use to accuse God of not being good.

    Look, suppose a child who is dying of cancer prays to God and is miraculously healed. Does this solve the problem? Of course not! There is still some other evil happening elsewhere that one could point out. So what was the point of your nasty little appeal to emotion, then, other than kidding yourself? Stop pretending that some specific evil is the problem, as though you would withdraw your complaint if that specific evil were to be addressed—indeed, as though you actually cared about that one specific evil even in the slightest, apart from its use as a rhetorical cudgel. You’re bullshitting us with that line of argument.

    As I said in my earlier comment, your only way out of this dilemma is to show that there is some acceptable grade and/or quantity of evil which you will allow to exist; some limiting factor to your complaint; some line you can draw before Teletubby World wherein the quantity and quality of evil still allows the existence of a good, omnipotent God. If you don’t provide that, then cherry-picking specific evils and pretending that dealing with the specific instance would make a difference is just bullshit.

    If you think that the Sorites Paradox applies somehow, then I can only assume it’s because you have a problem with a heap of evil, but how many evils make a heap? That seems pretty ridiculous, but I’m prepared to hear you spell it out. Mind you, I’m getting pretty peeved with your constant posturing as though you’re the only smart guy in the room. Humility would be too much to ask for, but do you think you could tone down the arrogance just a bit? You aren’t as smart as you think you are, and you’re being a dick about it to boot.

  50. Ilíon says:

    ^ Sooner or later, *everyone* reaches the same conclusion with regard to God-Deniers.

  51. Ilíon says:

    … both collectively and individually.

  52. Dhay says:

    Brian > If you’re ever in the mood to hear poor argumentation, tune in to The Atheist Experience. The premise of the show, which pits the self-appointed Rational against callers whom they consider Deluded, virtually guarantees that poor argumentation will occur. If a Deluded caller makes a point, then, well, he’s Deluded so it’s only a matter of figuring out why. Any reason will do. The reason may not stand up to the slightest critical examination, but that is of no concern. The Deluded guy got pwned, and that’s all that matters. The presence of the audience ensures confident self-satisfaction all around.

    Such a dynamic may happen anywhere and in different contexts, including, say, blogs where the dichotomy may not be Deluded vs Rational, but Bad vs Good or Shadow vs Light.

    There’s no rational argument there, just insinuation that this blog is as bad as something you say is very bad indeed. That’s snide and insulting.

    > Perhaps we have different interests. My interest is in looking at philosophical arguments. Your interest may be to pwn the other side and to demonstrate the power of Light against Shadow, undeterred by the quality of the arguments being made.

    This is an assertion – a mere assertion – that you are presenting “quality” philosophical arguments which are being disregarded here on Shadow to Light by Michael, (identified as as Brian’s “you” a few lines further down), who is allegedly only interested in responding with any-old-reason-will-do-for-the-purpose “poor argumentation” reasons to discount them, reasons “which don’t stand up to the slightest critical examination” (or so you say) so that the visiting “Deluded guy” (ie you, who’s allegedly actually presenting “quality” philosophical arguments) “g[ets wrongly] pwned, and that’s all that matters.”

    There’s no rational argument there, just insinuation, ad hominem nastiness, self-puffery and arrogance.

    > The OP enumerates the evils of the world. Call them E1,E2,…,En. The argument is that a world with no evils implies Teletubby World: (not E1) and (not E2) and (not E3) … and (not En) implies Teletubby World …

    You made several different “quality” – bullshit, actually – philosophical arguments by first claiming the OP argument relied on logical-AND-ing its example evils – a claim so absurd I had to check to clarify you really claimed that – evidently you do not understand how to use the logical-AND operator; when found out and challenged, you then switched to an equally fallacious argument based on claiming Michael’s argument logical-OR-ed them.

    > That you launched a personal attack at this point suggests an interest of the second kind mentioned above, one of putting aside the quality of philosophical argumentation to pwn atheists.

    There was no personal attack; I’ll quote Michael’s reply:

    My use of “or” is spelled out in the paragraph that immediately follows the part Brian quotes.

    It’s or, not and.

    According to the Argument from Evil, E1, or E2, or E3, or…..En all tell us God is either weak or mean. Any E will do. You yourself demonstrate this with the arbitrary nature of your chosen example – a child that suffers an agonizing death due to a congenital disorder. It could have just as easily been a child that suffers an agonizing death due to an infectious disease. Or a mother of 3 little kids who dies in child birth. Or a loving father who is killed because of a drunk driver. Or puppies and kittens caught in a house fire. Etc.

    TFBW clearly understood my point in his reply to you, so you should check it out, as it is nicely and succinctly explained.

    Which is as polite and non-aggressive as can be. Whereas your false assertion that Michael launched a personal attack is… is a personal attack launched at Michael.

    And we’re back to the snide and aggressive insinuation that Michael is disregarding your self-proclaimed “quality of philosophical argumentation” because he’s only interested in pwning atheists. That’s wrong, and it’s sheer bloody rude.

    > Virtually 100% (probably exactly 100%) of independent parties would interpret “It’s or, not and” in exactly the way I did, especially in light of the paragraph that followed it. I may demonstrate this by posting the question to an independent forum such as philosophy stackexchange.

    I’d say read that reply again, but I am convinced you have no interest in rational discussion, you’re just here to try to pwn Christians and to claim you have pwned the supposedly irrational and aggressive Michael.

    I’ll treat your hypothetical demonstration with the contempt hypothetical demonstrations deserve. For any lurkers I’ll point out that Brian has repeatedly misrepresented Michael’s arguments, and that opinions based on misrepresentations are worthless.

    > I interpreted your words reasonably and appropriately. Your personal attack is utterly out of place. If you double down on it, I will guess your interest is of the second kind. It doesn’t actually matter how many suspicious accounts show up to rail against the obvious (per the second interest).

    Bluff and bluster; misrepresentation: no you didn’t interpret reasonably and appropriately; there was no personal attack by Michael; nor can Michael double down on an attack he never made. It’s back to the opening theme that poor little you, with your superb logical arguments, is being attacked by your host with illogical arguments and rebuttals.

    > If your interest is of the first kind, then you should listen to criticism because the peanut gallery is not helping you in this regard (indeed it causes skills to atrophy).

    More passive-aggressive snide insinuation; it’s basically an accusation that Michael isn’t interested in your “quality” philosophical argument.

    Then the mask slips: the “peanut gallery” is those who have been criticising you, criticisms you appear not to have been listening to; were you genuinely interested in “quality” philosophical arguments, were you genuinely interested in avoiding or rectifying (your) “poor argumentation”, were you genuinely interested in your ideas “stand[ing] up to the slightest critical examination”, you would be pleased to receive these criticisms and attentive to them. Instead, you apparently resent them and would rather be without them: so much for your claim to be interested in philosophy!

    If your interest is of the first kind, then you should listen to criticism because the peanut gallery is seeking to help you in this regard – even when, as with me – it’s just calling out bullshit.

    > I notice a lot of grandiosity, generally.

    Let me echo that back, you puffed-up ignoramus who doesn’t understand (or misrepresents?) the logical-AND and logical-OR operators.

    > Consider the possibility that maybe—just maybe—you haven’t solved the problem of evil and haven’t achieved what nobody else has for over two thousand years in one short blog post.

    Consider the possibility that solving – solving? what even is that? – the problem of evil might not have been the OP’s intention.

    > Consider the possibility that being mistaken about something as simple as “and” vs “or” is not the end of the world. We are all human and we all make mistakes.

    The lack of self-awareness – or bluff, bullshit, etc – is astonishing. Consider the possibility that supercilious condescension doesn’t come well from from a philosophical incompetent.

    > Consider the possibility that making a mistake and being corrected by an atheist does not mean that atheism is true and theism false.

    A passive-agressive claim to be right and Michael wrong. You don’t get to be right by making claims to be right, you need to make correct arguments. Misrepresenting your opponent proves only that you have misrepresented your opponent.

    > Consider the possibility that launching a personal attack in response to criticism only makes your argument look weak, not to mention making you yourself look weak and petty.

    You have claimed Michael launched a personal attack, yet he didn’t. This whole post of yours is a personal attack. Your words apply, not to Michael but to yourself.

    > Consider the possibility that your writing is misunderstood because it was poorly written and/or contains mistakes, not because a reader has malign intent.

    No, looking at your post I can but see distortion, at least one obvious outright lie, I see malice and I see malign intent.

    Don’t bother to reply politely: if that reply to Michael is your standard of politeness, I would much prefer honest rudeness.

  53. Ilíon says:

    I long ago noticed that that “Consider the possibility that you are wrong” game is often played by people who cannot present an argument that the person(s) so addressed are wrong … because they themselves are wrong.

  54. Dhay says:

    Let’s look at a sentence in the middle of that Brian reply that I just looked at:

    Brian > > I interpreted your words reasonably and appropriately. Your personal attack is utterly out of place. If you double down on it, I will guess your interest is of the second kind. It doesn’t actually matter how many suspicious accounts show up to rail against the obvious (per the second interest).

    Well, well, not only does Brian resent criticisms of his arguments from what he calls “the peanut gallery”, he’s even making the accusation that “suspicious accounts” have shown up to rail against his “quality” philosophical arguments and presumably to pwn him “and that’s all that matters” (as he says they do to phoners-in on the The Atheist Experience radio programme.)

    Suspicious accounts, eh! Nobody likes sockpuppets and their operators, so Brian will do us all a great favour by identifying which are the “suspicious accounts”, the grounds for suspicion, and, with reasons, who he suspects (is it Michael himself?) is the puppetmaster.

    *

    I’m as good as certain that a suspicious account has shown up in this thread. Has anybody else noticed how similar in characteristics and methods (for example, but by no means limited to, claiming the OP has fanciful “implications”) — noticed how similar “Brian” is to “Jonathan Blair”/”JB”?

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2019/05/16/god-of-the-gaps-atheism-4/#comment-32885

    Seems to me “JB” is back for a second bite at the cherry, and is once again pushing out one absurdity after another for, presumably, the laughs.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2019/05/16/god-of-the-gaps-atheism-4/#comment-32039

  55. Dhay says:

    One counter to the Argument from Evil, or at any rate to its more common variant, the Argument from Suffering, comes from Buddhism. The way it’s often stated is that nirvana (the freedom from suffering which is the traditional end-goal of Buddhist practice) and samsara (this ordinary everyday world full of suffering) are the same, eg:

    In the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, [the great Buddhist sage and philosopher] Nagarjuna writes that there is no samsara distinct from nirvana, no nirvana distinct from samsara, and not even a subtle difference can be found between them.

    https://www.quora.com/What-does-Nagarjuna-mean-when-he-says-Nirvana-is-samsara

    Or there’s this from a major figure in modern Tibetan Buddhism who died recently, Sogyal Rinpoche:

    As you do this practice again and again [ie repeating the mantra ‘Om a hum vajra guru padma siddhi hum’ while visualising the Buddha — Dhay], saying the mantra and filling your heart with bliss, slowly your suffering will dissolve in the confident peace of the nature of your mind.

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3WE1HD5AUDAC&pg=PA319&lpg=PA319&dq=my+suffering+is+bliss+tibet#v=onepage&q=my%20suffering%20is%20bliss%20tibet&f=false

    There’s nothing there about remission or pain relief from your cancer, nothing there about getting your child remission or pain relief from her cancer either, there’s nothing there about re-growing your amputated leg or preventing a lingering and painful death from just-severe-enough burns: but these sufferings, with a simple change of mind, become nirvana, freedom from suffering, bliss.

    *

    Sam Harris alludes to this in his 2014 “Adventures in the Land of Illness” blog post: on turning age 40 he graduated from the hypochondria of his youth to morning-to-night tinnitus, to dizziness (“an undulating instability reminiscent of one’s first steps on dry land after several days at sea”) which might (or might not, he got several conflicting diagnoses) be the dreaded Ménière’s disease; treatment had unwelcome permanent side-effects, so he’s on a disliked low-salt, no-coffee diet. There also is – perhaps by now was — his injured hip and the costs of treatments, not to mention the suffering his grumbling inflicted on his wife and the suffering not grumbling — Harris has an honesty fetish — inflicted on him. Harris’ bottom line is very Buddhist:

    It is possible to accept the present moment fully, even when it isn’t the present one wants.

    https://samharris.org/adventures-in-the-land-of-illness/

    Yep, with the right frame of mind suffering and dissatisfaction are OK.

    *

    The Oatmeal’s cartoonist (and well known atheist) Matthew Inman has a similar line. His cartoon “How to be perfectly unhappy” has the message that it’s good to be unhappy. I came across the cartoon via a link in the Mission article “If you want to be fulfilled, don’t do what makes you happy” which takes Inman’s message and develops it further. So that’s two more voices in favour of suffering being OK.

    https://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy

    View at Medium.com

    *

    Like Inman, I used to be a ultra-distance runner: after a few dozen miles of long wet grass and peat bogs excruciating blisters develop on your heels where the shoe rubs; after a dozen miles more they pop and become merely painful, such that the next few dozen are not pain-free but much more pleasant. But even at its worst it was OK; as a running mate put it: “It’s only pain.”

    *

    Finally, there’s that authority on all things religious, jim-. In his 08 April 2020 blog post entitled “The Necessity of Opposition” jim- starts:

    Imagine heaven—where happiness is the law of the land—that eternal bliss that is all void of sin—with no more yang to counter the yin—no more descending to disrupt ascending—all tears are preempted no sadness therein.

    It would quickly digress to the color of grey—an atrophic undefined purposeless way, pure numbing apathy of colorless color, all black or no white, oddly no contrast of what wrong or what’s right. Heaven can’t happen and stay heaven—without hell, so saddle up long for an infinite spell. Opposition is the only that makes being, worth being.

    The way to even recognize joy is to have anxieties with which to compare and the opposite’s true too.

    https://jimoeba.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/the-necessity-of-opposition/

    Which can be nicely re-purposed by substituting a hypothetical suffering-free “heaven on Earth” and an ‘Argument from Suffering’ type “hell on Earth” present world.

    (This is not an original argument: those familiar with the writings of the Zen Buddhist, Alan Watts, will know he was saying essentially this about the necessity of having both poles of the “opposites” back in the 60’s/70’s.)

  56. Brian says:

    TFBW, what you dismiss as an appeal to emotion is an instance of the classic argument from evil, an argument that has not been adequately answered for a couple thousand years. The basic form of the argument is:

    P. If evil exists, then an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God does not exist.

    Regarding your argument about God having to eliminate each Ex (each evil), an easier way to make that argument is to simply take the contrapositive of P:

    P*. If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God exists, then evil does not exist.

    The aim of the OP is, essentially, to undermine P*. Because P and P* are equivalent, if P* is undermined then so is P.

    So how is P* undermined? We are told that “this world, with all its evil, is better” than a world without evil. For the sake of argument let’s accept this claim at face value. Finally, to undermine P*, one may argue that God chose to create this “better” world instead of a worse world. Fair enough.

    Regarding your complaint that I focus on only one evil. If a single evil exists, then evil exists. Thus P requires only one evil, so I use only one. And it’s just a matter of fact that P is equivalent to its contrapositive, P*.

    In practical terms, the classic argument from evil is more like P than P*, in that people want an explanation for an evil they know or have experienced. In a nutshell, it asks, “Why does God let this happen?” It is illustrated by the above dialogue between God and the child.

    We’ve accepted that P* has been undermined, and therefore P has been undermined. But how does the reason for P* being undermined translate to P being undermined? That is the question everyone wants to know: “Why does God let this happen?” It’s the point I’ve been making from the very beginning.

    The undermining of P* goes like this: a world with evil is “better” than a world without evil. With regard to P, the natural conclusion is that each evil makes the world “better”. In particular, in the dialogue between God and the child, the reason God lets the child die is to make the world “better”.

    You make the point that God rescuing one child would not be enough: He would have to rescue the next, and the next, and so forth. That is true. Each death of an innocent child from congenital disease brings us one step closer to a “better” world, until the “better” world is finally achieved when all the children are dead, along with the addition of all other evils.

    If you don’t like that theodicy, then the sorites paradox, far from being a distraction, seems to be your only escape: assigning a property to the totality of evils but denying the property to a single evil. This is the route Michael has taken.

    If this world is “better” than a world without evil, then a world without evil is worse than this world. Michael informs us that, while removing all evils leads to a worse world, he is not “dumb enough” to believe removing a single evil leads to a worse world.

    However given your wholesale rejection of fuzziness per the Coyne thread, you would need an exact criteria for when the world becomes worse. For instance, does preventing the deaths of a million children from congenital disease not make the world worse, while preventing more such deaths does make it worse?

    I see only three options:

    a. Admit, via the sorites paradox, that P* has been undermined but P has not. If that sounds like a contradiction, it is, as P and P* are equivalent. The sorites paradox is that contradiction: what applies to many does not apply to one. In this case, P is not weakened but remains as strong as ever (contrary to the title). In other words, the OP fails to undermine the classic argument from evil as depicted in the above dialogue between God and the child. (Arguably, it only makes things worse by adding a contradiction into the mix, also referenced in the dialogue.)

    b. Come up with an exact criteria separating “better” worlds from worse worlds via the addition or subtraction of evils.

    c. Admit as unworkable the premise that this world is “better” than a world without evil.

  57. Dhay says:

    Brian > The undermining of P* goes like this: a world with evil is “better” than a world without evil. With regard to P, the natural conclusion is that each evil makes the world “better”. In particular, in the dialogue between God and the child, the reason God lets the child die is to make the world “better”.

    You make the point that God rescuing one child would not be enough: He would have to rescue the next, and the next, and so forth. That is true. Each death of an innocent child from congenital disease brings us one step closer to a “better” world, until the “better” world is finally achieved when all the children are dead, along with the addition of all other evils.

    Warped reasoning indeed; but not, I think, TFBW’s; nor Michaels’.

    > If you don’t like that theodicy, then the sorites paradox, far from being a distraction, seems to be your only escape: assigning a property to the totality of evils but denying the property to a single evil. This is the route Michael has taken.

    Instead of fighting straw men arguments of your own imagining, how about addressing the actual OP, JB.

  58. Michael says:

    Brian: So how is P* undermined? We are told that “this world, with all its evil, is better” than a world without evil. For the sake of argument let’s accept this claim at face value. Finally, to undermine P*, one may argue that God chose to create this “better” world instead of a worse world. Fair enough.

    Not quite. People were not being “told” that “this world, with all its evil, is better” than a world without evil. Rather than telling others how it is, I was merely highlighting the subjective essence of the entire argument. Let’s see what I actually wrote:

    And at this point, the Argument from Evil is exposed as nothing more than subjective opinion. For no atheist has ever shown it to be true that If there is a God, we should all be Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world. That’s just their opinion and I would not agree. Would you? From my perspective, this world, with all its evil, is better than a Teletubbie-like world.

    You write:

    P. If evil exists, then an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God does not exist.
    Regarding your argument about God having to eliminate each Ex (each evil), an easier way to make that argument is to simply take the contrapositive of P:
    P*. If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God exists, then evil does not exist.
    The aim of the OP is, essentially, to undermine P*. Because P and P* are equivalent, if P* is undermined then so is P.

    Or, as I stated it, “The Argument from Evil boils down to this: If there is a God, we should all be Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world. Since we are not Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world, there is no God.”

    Of course, we can go even further than this. For example, if P* is correct, then it means that not a person alive on this planet should be alive. We would not exist as Teletubbies. We would simply not exist. Teletubbies would exist instead.

    You have not disputed any of this. But at that point, it’s not clear to me (in the slightest) that if there is a God, only Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world should exist. I did add, “From my perspective, this world, with all its evil, is better than a Teletubbie-like world,” and that is indeed my opinion(which can be explored elsewhere). But I don’t even need it here. I merely need to point out that it is not clear at all that If there is a God, we should all be Teletubbie-like creatures living in a Teletubbie-like world. And that’s all it takes to neuter the Argument from Evil.

    Regarding your complaint that I focus on only one evil. If a single evil exists, then evil exists. Thus P requires only one evil, so I use only one. And it’s just a matter of fact that P is equivalent to its contrapositive, P*.

    Which is how the Argument from Evil leads to the demand for a Teletubbie World.

    In practical terms, the classic argument from evil is more like P than P*, in that people want an explanation for an evil they know or have experienced.

    Which makes sense given the subjective, emotional essence of the argument.

    The undermining of P* goes like this: a world with evil is “better” than a world without evil.

    I see you have fixated on my use of the word “better” in that last paragraph. Fine. But your sentence does not capture the essence of what I was saying. So let me put it closer to my words:

    The undermining of P* goes like this: a world with human beings is “better” than a world with Teletubbies.

    Or I could even go as far as:

    The undermining of P* goes like this: a world with human beings is “better” than a world without them.

    And yet we’re still left with what I meant by “better.” Obviously, I’m not talking about humans being less evil or more moral. I’m focused on other aspects. But does it matter which ones at this point? What matters is whether or not one agrees that a world with human beings is “better” than a world with Teletubbies. If so, P* is undermined, and thus P too. It not, then explain why a world with Teletubbies is better than a world with human beings. The most that will happen then is a difference in opinion. Which further confirms what I noted from the start, “the Argument from Evil is exposed as nothing more than subjective opinion.”

    With regard to P, the natural conclusion is that each evil makes the world “better”.

    I only used the term “better” when comparing human beings and Teletubbies. Like saying I think apples are better than oranges. Not sure how you reach any “natural conclusion” from that.

    In particular, in the dialogue between God and the child, the reason God lets the child die is to make the world “better”.

    God lets us ALL die. Young and old. Sick and healthy. The death of ANYONE usually causes pain and suffering for SOMEONE. Now, while I can understand the emotional and subjective reasons for focusing on “the child,” we’re still left with the realization that the fate of that child doesn’t really tell us anything about the existence and nature of God (beyond personal opinions, that is). Whether the child is healed or not, whether the child lives or not, whether the child suffers or not, the Argument from Evil tells us (supposedly) that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God does not exist.

    the reason God lets the child die…..

    No where do I claim to know God’s “reason.”

  59. TFBW says:

    TFBW, what you dismiss as an appeal to emotion is an instance of the classic argument from evil, an argument that has not been adequately answered for a couple thousand years.

    Sure, but you framed it with a callous, indifferent God, and a poor, innocent, suffering child. It’s like Homer Simpson’s low-calorie rice cake buried under lashings of fatty, salty, sugary topping: the classic argument from evil, buried under lashings of appeal to emotion.

    We’ve accepted that P* has been undermined, and therefore P has been undermined. But how does the reason for P* being undermined translate to P being undermined?

    What, the sheer brute force of logic isn’t enough? I know, I know—it still feels wrong, even if the logic is impeccable. Why can’t God just do this one thing? Just this one thing? Well, what makes you think He doesn’t do lots of “just one things?” You look at the evils which are permitted to happen and complain that they are permitted to happen¸ but you have no idea what is not permitted—what could have happened which did not happen because God did not allow it. For all you know, God is intervening in a large way to prevent things from being worse than they are. For all you know, God is extremely benevolent, according to your standards of benevolence, but you judge Him to be malevolent because some evil is permitted to exist. You blame Him for all the evil, and don’t thank Him for any of the good. This is why we must rub the logical consequence of Teletubby World in your face good and hard.

    You are judging God in ignorance. You don’t know the trade-offs that are being made, and how things which you think are good might have consequences which are bad. The worst atrocities are committed by those with the best intentions, because their own good intentions blind them to the evil that follows from their actions. On top of that, you operate from a naive understanding of what’s possible. You speak as though some suffering and death were the worst that could happen. A God who can undo death and operates with eternal life in mind has a vastly different perspective on the subject.

    If you allow that the best possible outcome might be something other than Teletubby World, then you allow that the best possible world contains some evil, at least temporarily. A concrete example might be the need to learn from experience: it’s one thing to accept from authority that excessive heat causes burns, and burns are both painful and harmful; it’s another thing to have experienced a burn. Clearly the burn itself is the sort of “mild evil” which must not be permitted in Teletubby World, but the denizens of Burn World are wiser and have a deeper understanding of things, at least so far as burns are concerned. For the Teletubby, a “burn” is merely an abstract concept, detached from reality. Teletubbies are naive, ignorant, and child-like: not only can they afford to be, they live in an environment which offers little or no opportunity to be otherwise.

    b. Come up with an exact criteria separating “better” worlds from worse worlds via the addition or subtraction of evils.

    I lack the knowledge to specify exact criteria, but I can see, using the reasoning I’ve outlined above, that the best of all worlds contains some evil. It’s like the Laffer Curve, or Aristotle’s Golden Mean: if some point in the middle is better than the two extremes, then the optimal point is somewhere in the middle. You don’t need to know exactly where it is in order to know it must be true.

    I don’t need to fine-tune, because all I needed to establish was that the existence of evil doesn’t preclude the existence of a good, omnipotent, benevolent God. On the contrary, if you accept my argument, then the existence of such a God makes a certain limited amount of evil a necessity. If you think that there’s too much evil—i.e. more than is strictly necessary—then you’re making a more precise claim than I am, and the onus is on you to spell out the criteria by which you make that claim. Have at it.

  60. Dhay says:

    Brian > the classic argument from evil, an argument that has not been adequately answered for a couple thousand years. The basic form of the argument is:

    P. If evil exists, then an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God does not exist.

    Regarding your argument about God having to eliminate each Ex (each evil), an easier way to make that argument is to simply take the contrapositive of P:

    P*. If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God exists, then evil does not exist.

    Because P and P* are equivalent, if P* is undermined then so is P.

    P and P* seem to be both of them classic either/or dichotomies; in both P and P* either one of the pair forming the dichotomy is true or (by default in the absence of any other alternative) it must be the other of the pair forming the dichotomy is true. And as you have pointed out (“Because P and P* are equivalent, if P* is undermined then so is P”) — if one is undermined, both are.

    An argument by dichotomy relies upon there being two and only two alternatives; if there are three or more alternatives, that argument by dichotomy fails and becomes the fallacy of argument by false dichotomy.

    I have pointed out above that as regards the Argument from Suffering — I’ll leave others to discern the relevance or irrelevance to the Argument from Evil — there is indeed a third alternative, one which reckons (and experiences) nirvana and samsara to be identically the same, instead of dichotomous opposites:

    The way it’s often stated is that nirvana (the freedom from suffering which is the traditional end-goal of Buddhist practice) and samsara (this ordinary everyday world full of suffering) are the same, eg:

    In the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, [the great Buddhist sage and philosopher] Nagarjuna writes that there is no samsara distinct from nirvana, no nirvana distinct from samsara, and not even a subtle difference can be found between them.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/argument-from-evil-is-weak/#comment-36039

    There’s yet another — if very different — underminer of the P and P* dichotomies, one which bears upon the Argument from Evil specifically; it’s the philosophical-materialist alternative that Richard Dawkins expresses as:

    The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    In that world-view there neither is nor can be good nor evil.

  61. Dhay says:

    > The modern day atheist movement has only one argument to actually support atheism – The Argument From Evil. Anytime an atheist tries to make the case that there is no God, chances are extremely high that some version of the Argument from Evil will be used.

    Pew Research’s 23 November 2021 study-based article entitled, “Few Americans Blame God or Say Faith Has Been Shaken Amid Pandemic, Other Tragedies”, includes a table headed:

    Few U.S. believers say the suffering in the world has shaken their faith in God

    https://www.pewforum.org/2021/11/23/views-on-human-suffering-and-gods-role-in-it/pf_11-23-21_problem-of-evil_1_5/

    If you look at the table you’ll see that to the researchers’ “How well does … reflect your views” the reply of ‘All US adults’ to “Sometimes I think the suffering that exists in the world is an indication that there is no God” was:
    Very well: 3%
    Somewhat well: 10%
    NET Not too/not at all well: 76%

    Plainly the, er, devastating Argument from Evil is devastating for only 3%; it’s worth considering as an argument (“an indication that there is no God”, but not a convincing proof) for 10%; and far from it being an overwhelmingly convincing argument, the Argument from Evil is rejected mostly or completely by 76%.

    Atheists using the Argument from Evil are arguably arguing from personal opinion, from personal conviction: far from it being an argument that any reasonable person will recognise as convincing, public opinion — the judgment of ‘All US adults’ — is overwhelmingly (97%) that the Argument from Evil either fails or is inconclusive.

    *

    Need I point out that those figures were for ‘All US adults’: if you look at the figures for ‘[All] Christian’, they’re 2%, 7% and 90% respectively; for Evangelicals they’re 1%, 2% and 95%. One wonders why an atheist should ever bother with such an evidently futile exercise as presenting the Argument from Evil to Christians. Or even to John and Jane Doe.

    https://www.pewforum.org/2021/11/23/few-americans-blame-god-or-say-faith-has-been-shaken-amid-pandemic-other-tragedies/

  62. rapport says:

    Wouldn’t the Teletubbie-World argument also apply to many people’s conception of the Christian Heaven, though, and even God themself? i.e. If suffering/evil makes for a more preferable world overall, God “should” be a teletubbie or Heaven should resemble a teletubbie world.

  63. TFBW says:

    The most glaring difference between Heaven and Teletubbies World is that Heaven is populated by people who know what pain, suffering, and sin are. They know how those things came about, their consequences, and at what cost they were eliminated. The Teletubbies are blissfully ignorant.

  64. Dhay says:

    The cartoon version of Heaven is indeed a “TeleTubby-world”, but it is unbiblical.

    Heaven is not entered through the (twelve) Pearly Gates: that place, says Revelation 21, is the New Jerusalem, which descends from Heaven at the resurrection. If Heaven is anywhere described in the Bible as a place where people sit on clouds playing harps, I’ve missed it.

    You might wish to read “Surprised by Hope” by the prominent British theologian, NT Wright — particularly the first few chapters — in which he is very caustic about such a view.

  65. From what I can tell, Paradise is more to do with being in the presence of God rather than anything to do with the properties of the physical or otherwise space it occupies.

  66. Michael says:

    Wouldn’t the Teletubbie-World argument also apply to many people’s conception of the Christian Heaven, though, and even God themself? i.e. If suffering/evil makes for a more preferable world overall, God “should” be a teletubbie or Heaven should resemble a teletubbie world.

    Nice. You actually read and understood the argument and have raised a good objection, namely, the same logic that renders the Argument from Evil impotent seems to give good reason to doubt the existence of heaven.

    First, I would echo the point raised by TFBW – heaven will not be populated by teletubbie-like creatures, as it will be populated with us –> beings who have been shaped by this world.

    But this doesn’t seem to totally eliminate the problem. If there is no evil in Heaven, many of the traits we consider virtuous would seem to disappear given these virtues stand out against a backdrop of evil. For example, is there courage in Heaven? What need for it? What about forgiveness? The willingness to lay down one’s life for another? Why would any this exist? Might Heaven turn us into teletubbies?

    Yet at this point we must understand Christian teaching since, after all, heaven is part of Christian teaching. Christianity teaches that we will be bodily resurrected. And when this happens, we will be transformed. That is, the resurrection is not a resuscitation. It is a transformtion. A change. This is not some ad hoc consideration, but flows from the same theology that speaks of Heaven.

    The point? I cannot truly contemplate heaven, since it entails a level of experience I do not have. It’s analagous to a caterpiller trying to contemplate life as a butterfly. Just not doable.

    So the argument I raise does neuter the Argument from Evil, such that it’s appeal is now restricted to immature, emotional people, but fails to apply to Heaven, given that we cannot know what will be entailed with such existence (other than it being very good).

  67. rapport says:

    I agree that a radical transformation would be necessary for a person to be perpetually free of suffering (let alone happy), and that it may be impossible to imagine what such a person would look like. Even so, though, I don’t know that we can draw a hard line between undesirable “teletubbie” traits and the traits of someone who’s simply maximally wise or virtuous. Behaviors like “turning the other cheek”, forgiving one’s enemies, giving away one’s possessions etc. might seem bizarre or teletubbie-ish to some but to others represent the pinnacle of living well.

    Like you say, it may be that the key difference is in whether one behaves this way out of ignorance or enlightenment, but if we don’t take for granted the existence of an afterlife then it isn’t clear that living this way really is enlightened in the first place. If someone for instance chooses not to fight back against an attacker and loses their life as a result with no afterlife or resurrected body to reward them, can we say they were acting wisely?

  68. TFBW says:

    In the absence of an afterlife, I defer to a witty corruption of Nietzsche: “what doesn’t kill me postpones the inevitable.” If death is a state of annihilation to which all eventually succumb, it’s really not going to make any difference to you in the long run whether you die now or later. In fact, nothing you do will make any difference in the long run: conscious existence is merely a momentary spark in the infinite darkness of oblivion. In the absence of an afterlife, there is no action which can be considered wise or foolish, enlightened or barbaric. Whatever fleeting difference an action makes now, in the long run, that difference will amount to nothing.

    In other words, I agree that one must grant the existence of an afterlife for any of this to mean anything. In the absence of an afterlife, moral behaviour has no long-term consequences.

  69. Ilíon says:

    ==”… but if we don’t take for granted the existence of an afterlife …“==

    The proposition that the human person survives bodily death isn’t a “taken for granted“, it is the conclusion of reasoning about human persons.

    But, let us assume that the proposition “The human person survives bodily death” is false.

    Which is to say, let us assume that the proposition “The human person *is* his body” is true.

    Which is to say, let us assume that the proposition “The human person is ontologically equivalent to a rock” is true.

    Now, if one were to crush a rock into powder (or a human person into mush), then, obviously, the rock (or the human person) has ceased to exist.

    But, what if one were less dramatic about it? What if one were merely to cut the rock (or the human person) into two equal parts? Does the rock (or the human person) still exist? Hmm … well, obviously, the rock (or the human person) has ceased to exist.

    How odd is that … in both cases.

    But, what if one were to be less dramatic yet? What if one were merely to remove a portion of the rock (or of the human person, say, his foot)? Does the rock (or the human person) still exist?

    NO … in both cases.

    With any physical/material change to the rock, it is no longer “the rock”, it is some other rock — the block of marble from which Michelangelo carved ‘David‘ is/was *not* ‘David‘, and ‘David‘ is not that block of marble.

    Likewise, IF the proposition “The human person *is* his body” is true, THEN with any physical/material change to that body, the human person ceases to exist.

    BUT, everyone’s body is constantly and continuously undergoing physical/material change — cells divide, cells grow, cells die; cells incorporate matter, cells shed matter.

    IF the proposition “The human person *is* his body” is true, THEN the proposition “The human person is ontologically equivalent to a rock” is true. AND, IF the proposition “The human person is ontologically equivalent to a rock” is true, THEN the proposition “The human person does not exist even now” is also true.

  70. Ilíon says:

    Further, the fate of the entire universe itself is an “infinite darkness of oblivion.

    So, your self-sacrifice saved your entire nation from (immediate) oblivion? Doesn’t matter: in a few years, everyone who presently comprises your nation will no longer exist; in some future generation, your nation will no longer exist in any event; in some future year, your species will no longer exist; in some future eon, the entire material universe will be cold, dark, unchanging: dead.

  71. rapport says:

    @TFBW: “In the absence of an afterlife, there is no action which can be considered wise or foolish, enlightened or barbaric.”

    Even in that case though people would still have goals/desires to pursue in the relative short term, and the actions they take could be subjectively described as “wise/foolish etc.” based on how well they serve those ends.

    @Ilíon: “… IF the proposition “The human person *is* his body” is true, THEN with any physical/material change to that body, the human person ceases to exist.

    “BUT, everyone’s body is constantly and continuously undergoing physical/material change — cells divide, cells grow, cells die; cells incorporate matter, cells shed matter.”

    I agree that in light of the fact that people’s bodies are constantly changing, you could say that a person at a given moment in time is not the same person that they were a year ago, or yesterday, or even a moment ago. It isn’t clear to me though that sharing an identity with one’s past self is necessary for one to be considered to “exist” in the current moment.

  72. TFBW says:

    Even in that case though people would still have goals/desires to pursue in the relative short term, and the actions they take could be subjectively described as “wise/foolish etc.” based on how well they serve those ends.

    They could be described as effective or ineffective; productive or counter-productive. There is no wisdom in pursuing a fatuous goal, no matter how effective one’s methods of doing so. In the absence of an afterlife, the only non-fatuous goal is to annihilate oneself: everything else is an exercise in postponing the inevitable.

  73. rapport says:

    @TFBW: “In the absence of an afterlife, the only non-fatuous goal is to annihilate oneself: everything else is an exercise in postponing the inevitable.”

    For most people, annihilating themselves would (assuming they really are annihilated) take away their ability to feel any happiness or positive emotion — why would that be a desirable goal? The happiness may not last forever, but that doesn’t entail that it loses its “value” in the current moment.

  74. TFBW says:

    Sure: eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Just don’t try to sell me on the idea that there’s any wisdom to be found in it—beyond the observation that if everything is meaningless, then it makes no difference how fatuous your goals are. Nihilism is equally compatible with all forms of behaviour, since there is nothing to distinguish one thing from another.

  75. rapport says:

    @TFBW: As far as wisdom in an objective sense goes, I agree: in a world with no afterlife it wouldn’t automatically follow that an “eat, drink, be merry” philosophy is wise. Even in such a world though I assume most people would want to live a long and happy life rather than immediately annihilate themselves, and to pursue that end “wisdom” in the sense of experience-based knowledge would still be invaluable.

  76. Ilíon says:

    ==I agree that in light of the fact that people’s bodies are constantly changing, you could say that a person at a given moment in time is not the same person that they were a year ago, or yesterday, or even a moment ago. It isn’t clear to me though that sharing an identity with one’s past self is necessary for one to be considered to “exist” in the current moment.==

    Other people might be shocked by this amazing irrationality, but I am not. As I always point out: God-deniers will *always* retreat into irrationality so as to protect their God-denial from rational scrutiny.

  77. rapport says:

    @Ilíon: It seems to me that if people are capable of changing, this creates an automatic distinction between the person they are “now” and the one they were before the change. This goes to your example with Michelangelo’s David — when we talk about the sculpture we refer to its physical state now, rather than as it was as an uncarved stone (or the particles that would become that stone). It has different identifies but a material continuity between them (down to a certain scale of physics at least).

  78. Ilíon says:

    IF your materialism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality and of human beings, THEN you can’t even say, “I exist right now” because before you have even finished making the sound “I”, you have ceased to exist more than once as multiple yous have flitted into and out of existence.

  79. Ilíon says:

    Neither ‘David‘, nor the block of marble from which Michelangelo carved it, nor the mountain from which the block of marble was quarried, possess identity; but you do, and you possess this singular identity irrespective of the constant and continuous material and physical changes your body undergoes — the “you” of this precise instant is the same “you” who began to read this sentence (and notice, I am still working on writing the first sentence of this comment), and is the same “you” of every other instant of your existence. ‘David‘ does not exist in the same way that you do (*), for you are a immaterial self, and ‘David‘ is not.

    (*) For myself, I would take it further and deny that ‘David‘, the statue, even does exist. Rather, I would say that the concept of ‘David‘ exists, and that we ascribe identity, and thus existence, to that particular shaped block of marble. Michelangelo conceived the idea of ‘David‘, and materially instantiated a physical representation of that concept via highly skilled physical labor acting upon a block of marble, and thereby enabled everyone else to share that concept.

  80. Ilíon says:

    Many people are familiar with the Paradox of Theseus’s Ship; fewer are familiar with the Paradox of Theseus’s Maserati.

    It seems that Aegeus had command of a time-traveling genie. Wanting to show his favor to Theseus, his newly discovered son, for his heroic acts as he had made his way to Athens, Aegeus commanded the genie to produce an exemplary gift, sure to quicken the heart of any young man, and so the genie nipped a Maserati straight from the factory.

    Theseus, being a high-spirited young man, was instantly taken with the Maserati. He used to sit in it for *hours*, shifting the gears and twirling the wheel and making vroom-vroom noises. But, alas, as the genie had not thought to bring any gasoline/pertol back, that is all he could do with it. In time, the bloom of his enthusiasm for the Maserati faded.

    Seeing Theseus moping about Athens, and being a doting, if belated, father, Aegeus enquired into the cause of Theseus’s listlessness. Upon learning that shifting the gears and twirling the wheel and making vroom-vroom noises, even in a Maserati, gets old after a while, Aegeus commanded the genie to *do something* to reawaken Theseus’s delight in the Maserati.

    Not being the most quick-witted of spirits, the time-traveling genie returned to the scene of the crime, that is, to the Maserati factory. For days, he secretly observed the manufacture of Maseratii. And, while he never caught on to the requirement for gasoline/petrol in the tank, he *did* come to understand how a Maserati is put together, and all of the parts required. So, the genie nipped one of every single part which goes into the making of a Maserati, and took them back to Heroic Age Athens.

    As the genie’s luck would have it, Theseus had a bit of a mechanical bent … which would shortly serve him well in Crete. So, after the genie had explained how a Maserati might be assembled — or re-assembled — of the pile of parts, and still not understanding the necessity of gasoline/petrol, to say nothing of engine oil, Theseus’s enthusiasm for the Maserati was rekindled, and he decided to swap-out every part in turn until he discovered just which part was the defective one preventing him from *driving* the Maserati.

    So, Theseus and the genie got to work (for, after all, the genie hadn’t brought back the necessary tools) replacing parts on the Maserati Aegeus had given him. To keep from getting confused as to just which parts had been replaced, as each part was removed from the Maserati, rather that just dumping them in a jumble in some forgotten storeroom of the palace, the genie assembled each to all the other parts which had previously been removed from the original Maserati.

    At last, a day came when Theseus (and the genie) had replaced every single part of the Maserati Aegeus had given to Theseus — and *still* it wouldn’t start. Theseus was both frustrated and despondent. In his despair, he cried out to the Genie, “This is the Maserati which my father, the King, hast given me. Wherefore shall I tell him it that pleases me not?” But, pointing to the *other* Maserati which he had re-assembled, the genie replied, “Lo! This *also* is the Maserati which thy father, the King, hast given thee! Is this not a most wondrous gift which thy father, the King, hast given thee, in that *both* these Maseratii are one and the same Maserati?

    Fortunately for Theseus’s sanity, the time had come once again for Athens to send to King Minos of Crete the tribute of seven youths and seven maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. And, well, everyone knows that story.

  81. rapport says:

    @Ilíon: A key question is how identity is related to consciousness and whether one requires the other. Like you illustrate in the David/Maserati examples, it’s common for people to treat an object as having a persistent identity despite its changing materially.

    This isn’t necessarily the same phenomenon as that which generates conscious experience though. It’s possible for someone to be conscious and yet remember being a very different type of person than they are now (they might remember being 5 years old, for instance, or having different political opinions). It’s also of course possible to be conscious but not be able to form short-term or long-term memories, or to have memories of things that never happened. If we define a person’s identity as transcending all of these things, it seems like it risks being so abstract as to be meaningless.

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