August 27, 2009

Pointless Evil Versus God's Existence?

Associated Press: In this photo distributed by the official Xinhua news agency, rescuers search for students at Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City, about 100 kilometers from the epicenter in Wenchuan county of southwest China's Sichuan province, on Monday May 12, 2008. Nearly 900 students here were feared buried when a high school building collapsed in the earthquake, Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Chen Xie)

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, August 27, 2009)

Pointless Evil Versus God’s Existence?
Some critics object to the Christian God’s existence as follows: If God exists, then there shouldn’t be any pointless evil in the world; but there is pointless evil in the world; therefore, God does not exist.

Should we be persuaded by this objection? I don’t think so.

Let’s get clear on the objection. A pointless evil is a horrendous event for which there is no moral justification. For examples of such events, critics point to the deaths of innocent schoolchildren in an earthquake, or, say, to a fawn severely burned in a forest fire, suffering several days before dying. Surely, an all-good God would want to stop such pointless evils. Surely, an all-knowing God would know how to stop these evils. Surely, an all-powerful God could stop such evils. But the pointless evils exist. Therefore, God does not exist. Or so the objection goes.

The objection seems strong: there definitely are horrendous evils in the world; many of these evils do appear pointless; plus their horror tugs powerfully at our emotions.

Seemingly strong objection or not, wisdom requires that we should think carefully about matters having to do with God (whether one is a believer or not). Significantly, it turns out that careful thinking can weaken the logical if not emotional force of the above objection.

Two points require attention.

First, if we assume, for the sake of argument (as the objector does), that there is a God, then it follows logically that we should expect a huge intellectual gap between the human mind and the divine mind. Put it this way: If there is a God, then we humans would be like kindergarteners and God would be like Einstein, but much much smarter. In other words, intellectual humility is philosophically appropriate here.

Second (following closely on the heels of the first point), the critics’ claim that there is pointless evil in the world should be revised, for accuracy’s sake, to read as follows: there is apparently pointless evil in the world.

Think about it. If we kindergarteners happen to be with Einstein in his laboratory, Einstein would have reasons for doing what he is doing—and we would not be privy to all of his reasons. Why not? Because we simply couldn’t understand them. So, to a kindergartener some things Einstein does would appear pointless, whereas Einstein would know that they are actually not pointless.

Allow me to drive home the previous point. In the book The Fight (InterVarsity Press 1976), former University of Manitoba psychiatry professor John White (1924-2002) tells of an incident when he and his toddler son were far from home (and far from medical help) and the little boy fell, deeply gashing his chin. Realizing immediate medical attention was required, White used what was available—eyebrow tweezers, thread, household needles, but no pain relievers—and proceeded to stitch up his tiny son’s large wound.

White writes: “I agonized over [my son’s] ordeal as I gripped his tender skin with eyebrow tweezers and brutally jabbed a sewing needle again and again into his chin.”

We can easily imagine the bewildered and terrified boy saying or thinking something like the following (if he had the vocabulary): “Daddy, please don’t hurt me! Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me?! I don’t understand! Please don’t let this pointless evil continue…”

On the Christian view of God, our knowledge situation is like that of the toddler who is suffering apparently pointless evil, and the father is like God who has reasons—morally sufficient reasons—for allowing the pain. Like the boy, we are simply not privy to all of God’s reasons.

Significantly, given the evidence of God’s power, knowledge, and care in having created life itself and a universe finely-tuned for life, plus given the evidence of this God coming to our world in the man Jesus to suffer and die for us, as well as defeat death via His resurrection—that is, given this wonderful evidence of divine love—it is reasonable to believe that, even though we may not know all of God’s reasons for allowing apparently pointless evils, God has good reasons.

Yes, horrendous evils are horrendously evil, but, if God exists, it’s reasonable to think they’re not pointless, appearances to the contrary. Therefore, the objection fails.
And hope prevails.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, located in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada
The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

31 comments:

Dr. V said...

Dear readers of Apologia,

The philosophical problem of evil is a huge one, so I encourage you also to read my previous column on this topic (plus commentary): "Evil and the Free Will Defence". In addition, I recommend William Lane Craig, No Easy Answers (Moody Press 1990), chapters 4 & 5. This book has been re-issued as Hard Questions, Real Answers (Crossway Books, 2003). Moreover, I recommend John Stackhouse Jr.'s book Can God Be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil (Oxford University Press 1998). There is also a second edition of Stackhouse's book (which I haven't yet read) published in 2008 by InterVarsity Press.

Best regards,
Hendrik

Dr. V said...

P.S. For those deeply vexed by the philosophical problem of evil, please take a look too at my comments and suggested readings at footnote 29 on pages 12-13 of my PhD dissertation.

Mark said...

An article I found to be helpful was Michael Murray's "Animal Suffering" in the Q and A section from William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith page which can be found here:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7215

Murray also has a book covering the subject more in-depth titled "Nature Red Tooth And Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering."

Dr. V said...

Mark,

Thanks for the excellent suggestions. I think that anyone with serious questions concerning the Christian faith should make a point of regularly visiting William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith page. In my academic life I have found Craig's apologetical and philosophical work to be superb. (I first saw Craig about 30 years ago, in my pre-Christian days, when he debated the atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen, my philosophy professor at the University of Calgary.) I especially like the fact that on the Reasonable Faith website Craig sometimes has other, even more qualified experts answer the questions sent his way. Thanks again for the suggestions, Mark.

Best regards,
Dr. V

Pvblivs said...

     But, if he is all-powerful, he could convey those reasons. He does not do so. The father in your example would make the child understand the reasons, if he could. Furthermore, the necessity of his methods is another reflection of the limits of the father's ability.
     Ultimately, your counter-argument is that your god lacks certain abilities. He (according to your stated beliefs) created us. Either he was not able to create us able to understand (not all-powerful) or he chose not to (not all-good.)

Christopher said...

Dr. V.,

I have found the 'free-will' defense to be rather, well, loose. That is, it doesn't really help. When it comes down to it, the free-will defense simply ends with the mystery that we don't know why such-and-such evil act happens; it's a mystery. A mystery is not an answer. It is a bigger question.

More, being freely willing people, our imago dei puts God at the center of responsibility for the evil in the world. For if we would willingly intervene in moral evils in an attempt to stop them, then why does it seem God does not? Aren't our moral standards reflective of his, since he gave them to us? Shouldn't he be jumping in just as freely as we would? If not, does that mean then, that our free-will implies God can act passively (or not at all) in regards to evil, just like we sometimes do?

Also, I think the idea of a parent helping out his/her child is a powerful illustration, but not wholly fitting for an answer to suffering. Take the Old Testament, for example, God's children mess up, so he has the Baylonians and Assyrians imprison them, torture them, rape and mutilate them, rip open the bellies of pregnant women and dash their in utero against rocks... That doesn't seem overly parental, does it? Can you picture yourself taking a shotgun to your entire family because your son stole $100 from you? What about visiting the consequences of others mistakes onto the 3rd and 4th generation? do your grandchildren's grandchildren deserve to be punished because your child stole $100 (just to use the fictitious example again)?

I wonder if our typical responses as Christians regarding theodicy actually misses the character of God? Perhaps God is different than we think he is?

Dr. V said...

Hello again Pvblivs,

I think that you succumb to a logical problem in your criticism of God’s ability: you require of God the doing of a “task” that is logically contradictory.

On the view I’ve been defending in Apologia, God created human beings as finite beings whose understanding is in principle limited with respect to X, i.e., X is an item of knowledge that’s beyond our capacity to know. That we don’t and can’t know all that an all-knowing Mind knows, of which X is at least one item of the vast knowledge that an all-knowing Mind knows, an item we don't know because we cannot know X (because humans are not God), is pretty much the Christian view that I’ve been defending. And it’s what I attempted to illustrate, for better or for worse, in the Einstein-kindergarteners and father-toddler examples. (Keep in mind that my examples are for illustrative purposes; some illustrations are better than others.)

A problem arises, however, when you go on to require of the God under discussion that He do the following: Make a finite limited being who cannot understand X, where X is in principle beyond the understanding of this finite limited being’s capacities, to be able to understand X. That is, you require that God create a being for whom X is in principle beyond this being’s understanding and, at the same time and in the same sense, for whom X is not in principle beyond this being’s understanding. This is a bona fide logical contradiction.

So it’s not a case of God not being able to create us able to understand what is in principle un-understandable for us. Why not? Because such a creating is a “task” that is contradictory, i.e., it’s logically impossible, not a genuine possibility, it’s meaningless, it’s nonsense. The description of the "task" fails to refer, so there's nothing to do.

Nor is it a case of God not choosing to do such a “task.” Why not? Because, again, the “task” is contradictory, logically impossible, etc. The description of the "task" fails to refer, so there's nothing to choose. (In other words, the “task” is a pseudo-task.)

The only ability that the God in question “lacks” is the ability to turn logical nonsense into sense. To fault God (or anyone) for not being able to do this is, it seems to me, to make quite a large mistake.

Of course, it's always possible that I could be the one making a large mistake here. As far as I can tell, however, I'm not.

For more on pseudo-tasks, take a look at my 30 October 2008 Apologia column “God and the Stone”. For more on the principle of non-contradiction, take a look at my 7 May 2009 Apologia column “The Principle of Non-Contradiction”.

Best regards,
Hendrik

Pvblivs said...

Dr V.

     No, the task I propose is "make a being capable of understanding X." Instead, your god was either only capablie of or decided to "make a finite being incapable of understanding X." You have inserted a contradiction. I stand by my previous point

Dr. V said...

Pvblivs,

You can certainly stand by your previous point, but I think it’s not a good idea from the point of view of logic. Let's review your previous point:

“Ultimately, your counter-argument is that your god lacks certain abilities. He (according to your stated beliefs) created us. Either he was not able to create us able to understand (not all-powerful) or he chose not to (not all-good.)”

Okay, so we are talking about us. On the view under discussion, we are human beings who have been created as limited beings who are incapable of understanding at least some of what an infinite all-knowing being knows, i.e., God is omniscient, we are not. Also on the view under discussion, some items of knowledge are in principle beyond us, and X is one of those items. Now, you write: “he [God] was not able to create us [human beings] able to understand [X].” But, as you seem not to notice, this is to say that God was not able to create beings incapable of understanding X capable of understanding X. Contrary to what you’ve written, this is not a case of me inserting a contradiction; rather, this is me showing that the logic of what you’ve written contains a contradiction.

I hope this is helpful.

Best regards,
Hendrik

P.S. Pvblivs, I mean no disrespect in saying this, but I think that I’m going to close our discussion on this topic. You and I have had lots of interaction on this blog, which has been great, but I simply can’t set aside so much time to help one individual with his/her misunderstandings. Also, I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind limiting your comments to, say, one a month or one every couple of months. Again, no disrespect is intended. The simple fact of the matter is that I can’t turn this blog into a distance ed course. (I would like to, but at present I’m lacking time and energy.) I hope that my columns and occasional discussions with other readers will be satisfy your interest and be helpful to you. Thanks.

P.P.S. You still owe me an expensive coffee...

Dr. V said...

Christopher,

Thanks for your comments. They're important, so I am going to give them some thought. I will hopefully come up with a good answer or two (or at least direct you to where some good answers might be found).

I wish I could attend to your questions right away, but I simply can't. I need to do some other things (including sleep).

With best regards,
Hendrik

Pvblivs said...

Dr V:

     First off, I see no reason to limit my comments. When I consider you to be in error, I feel it appropriate to point that out.
     Secondly, you are inserting the contradiction. Unless your god is entirely fictional and all beings are necessarily finite, being finite is not a necessary property of us. We could, in principle, be of infinite mind. Our limitations are those imposed by your god. Let me give you an analogy to try to make my position clearer. If a painter creates a painting that is predominantly blue, and you ask why he made the painting blue (rather than, say, red) it would be an unsatisfactory answer for him to point out that the painting was blue and that it is logically contradictory to make the painting simultaneously blue and red. This is what you are doing. If a person were to lose (or gain) a hand, we would still regard him as the same person. Similarly, such inability to understand could altered without sacrificing continuity. Our property of being finite is either something that he chose or something over which he had no power. I am asking why he did not create beings capable of understanding X. You create (not point out) a contradiction when you insist that my question is "Why did he not create being {not able to understand X} capable of understanding X?" As such, your argument fails to address my own.

     P.S. If I have hit a weak spot in your faith so that you have to alter my argument to include a contradiction, then it is not necessary that you reply. You can face my actual argument when and if you are ready.

     P.P.S. It is not a matter of respect. This looks like a spot where your beliefs about your god are irreconcilabe. If you looked at the contradiction dead on, you would have to give up some part of your belief.

Dr. V said...

Okay, Pvblivs, let’s try again. I will respond in four parts.

Hendrik’s reply to Pvblivs (Part 1)

Let’s think about the following claim (from you): “We could, in principle, be of infinite mind.” Now, keep in mind the context of the present discussion: We say, for the sake of argument, that the Christian God creates humans (i.e., beings of a particular sort/ kind/ substance), apparently pointless evil occurs, we can’t understand the reason for the apparently pointless evil, some critics go on to say the apparently pointless evil is actually pointless; then I argue that if we posit (for argument’s sake) the existence of the Christian God—who is infinite, omniscient, etc.—and if this God has created human beings—who by their created nature are not infinite, omniscient, etc.—then we cannot reasonably say apparently pointless evil is actually pointless, because some things X are beyond our created capacities, and X could be the morally sufficient reason for the apparently pointless evil . (Reminder 1: To maintain the conceptual distinction between an infinite omniscient etc. Mind and finite limited minds, we have to posit some items X as items of knowledge that only an infinite Mind can know. Reminder 2: The critic’s for-the-sake-of-argument assumption is that the Christian God/infinite-etc. Mind exists.)

Okay. You then proceed to criticize my argument by saying God should have created us—we human beings—able to understand X. I respond by arguing that if X is something beyond our created capacities to know, and so by implication involves a capacity beyond that which defines us as human beings, then to require God to create human beings who can understand X is to require God to create beings who by their very nature cannot understand X yet can understand X. So, your criticism contains contradictory concepts.

Here is your claim again: “We could, in principle, be of infinite mind.” The context of our discussion (as presented in Apologia) forces the following interpretation: We, who are in principle not God (with respect to item of knowledge X), could, in principle, be God (with respect to item of knowledge X). This is contradictory, surely.

Hendrik’s reply to Pvblivs (Part 2)

You try to get around the contradiction in your position by claiming that being finite is not a necessary property of us. I must point you back to the context of our discussion. If the critic posits the God of Christianity for the sake of arguing that apparently pointless evil counts against this God’s existence (which is what’s happening in our context of discussion), then the critic should, to be logically consistent (and philosophically fair), take into account the conceptual resources of the position being criticized. On the Christian view of God, God has made the created order populated by various beings whose essential natures are finite. So being finite is an essential property, i.e., a necessary property, of us.

You go on to insist that God should be able to create beings capable of understanding X. But here you miss the issue. The issue is not why God did or didn’t create beings capable of understanding X. The issue is that, God having created finite beings, why can’t finite beings understand X. I’ve been arguing that finite beings are, by virtue of being finite, not privy to what only an infinite being can know. And X happens to be at least one of the items that only an infinite being can know. This is the logic at hand, whether the Christian God exists or not, a logic that you fail to understand.

To be continued below...

Dr. V said...

Hendrik’s reply to Pvblivs (Part 3)

Here are my thoughts about your painting analogy which you think makes your position clearer.

You write: “If a painter creates a painting that is predominantly blue, and you ask why he made the painting blue (rather than, say, red) it would be an unsatisfactory answer for him to point out that the painting was blue and that it is logically contradictory to make the painting simultaneously blue and red. This is what you are doing.”

I think the following analogy is more accurate with respect to what’s actually going on between us: A painter creates a painting that is predominantly blue, you say that the painting should also be predominantly red, the painter replies that the task of making a painting simultaneously predominantly blue and predominantly red is a logically contradictory “task,” and then you reply that the painter could have made the painting predominantly red in the first place, to which the painter replies “Yes, but I think that now you’re not talking about the same painting anymore.”

To be continued below...

Dr. V said...

Hendrik’s reply to Pvblivs (Part 4)

Pvblivs wrote: “I see no reason to limit my comments. When I consider you [Hendrik] to be in error, I feel it appropriate to point that out.”

Hendrik’s reply: Here are some reasons to limit your comments, which I think work together nicely as a cumulative case argument.

(a) The history of the commentary for Apologia shows the following: You quite often set out criticisms of my column; it turns out that almost all of those criticisms turn out to be faulty; I take considerable time and care to craft good arguments to show that your criticisms are in fact faulty; my carefully crafted arguments seem very often to fall on deaf ears. This seems to be the pattern for how it’s been for the past nine or so months.

(b) I admit it, Pvblivs, you’ve tired me out. But let’s be clear here. You’ve tired me out not because you’ve set out good arguments. Rather, you’ve tired me out because of the seemingly ongoing task you give me of untangling your philosophical entanglements. (To your credit, some of your entanglements show much intelligence.)

(c) I presently don’t have the time. As much as I would like to be a personal online philosophy tutor of sorts, I am teaching four courses this semester (which I find to be a very heavy load), plus I am trying to write a decent Apologia column every two weeks (in large part for readers like you), plus I am trying to work on some other study/writing projects, plus I am trying to be a good husband and father, plus I am trying to go to the gym regularly, etc. As you are undoubtedly aware, time is precious.

(d) I don’t want my Apologia commentary to contain unattended arguments that sound good but aren’t sound. No disprespect intended here, but often your arguments sound good, at least initially, but they turn out to be unsound. I don't want to promote faulty arguments on my blog, and I think that I would do that if I left them unattended. (I don't mean to toot my own horn here, but I have had extensive education and training in logic and critical thinking. So, on this blog at least, I will be the judge of what's a good argument.)

To be continued below...

Dr. V said...

Hendrik's reply to Pvblivs (Part 4 continued)

(e) Closely related to the previous point and to the points about my lack of energy and time, I have trouble leaving faulty arguments unattended. Thus, for the sake of my own personal health, I need to try to minimize the occurrence of those sorts of arguments on my blog. (I’ve had sleep problems, and I suspect my perhaps compulsion to argue may be a factor.) So I’m asking for your help in this, and I’m trusting that you are a decent individual who will help.

(f) Finally, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want with it. (Yes, this last point can be sung to the tune of Lesley Gore’s “It’s my party”. And, yes, this is supposed be a bit of humour. But it’s also an important point.)

Pvblivs, I believe I’ve been gracious and fair to you by taking so much time with your arguments. And please know that I hope I haven’t ever offended you. But if you would limit your comments to, say, one every couple of months, I would really appreciate that. If somehow I am able to make more time for this blog (which I hope and pray will be the case), I will definitely let you know. I really and truly do like our interaction (at least as much as I like chocolate and coffee), and I believe that our readers enjoy as well as learn from our interaction (I like to think our interaction has provided excellent instances of the art of fine argument), but in my present circumstances our interaction is taking a toll on me energy-wise and time-wise (sort of, I suppose, like having too much chocolate and spending too much time in the coffee shop). Thanks for helping me in this.

(Of course, I can’t prevent you from pretending to be someone else and leaving comments under another name. But I’m hoping that you will be more respectful of me than that.)

With best regards only,
Hendrik

P.S. About that expensive coffee. If you ever plan to be in my neighbourhood, please do contact me. Coffee of no coffee, it would be good to meet in person.

Pvblivs said...

Dr V:

     In regards to your "cumulative case:" A> So far, you have not demonstrated that my criticisms have been faulty. (It is quite possible that you believe yourself to have done so. But, in actual fact, you are taking (for example) things that contradict your position as though they were internal contradictions. Inconvenience to your position is not a flaw in my argument. B&gt> I have no question that I have tired you. I consistently put forward a thought-out position that is contrary to your own. However, left to your own devices, you are arguing against your representation of an opposing viewpoint. I present an actual opposing viewpoint (my own.) This is a reason why I should not limit my comments. C> I find it rather interesting that you are saying that you don't have time to deal with what others (in this case, I) find to be flaws in your position. But your lack of time does not constitue a good reason for me to leave those flaws unchallenged. D> This is actually a death knell for your request. You are saying that you don't want to leave what you see as unsound arguments from me unchallenged. It is then a mark of great hypocrisy to ask me to leave what I see as unsound arguments from you similarly unchallenged. You can't be the judge of what constitutes a good argument, even (or perhaps especially) on your own blog, because you have "a dog in the fight." You are an advocate, which disqualifies you from being a fair judge. E>It is my perspective that those faulty arguments are coming from you. Yes, I am quite aware that, as an advocate myself, I am not a valid judge. F> You certainly have the power to use your admin abilities to supress dissent. I should caution you. If your goal is to convince those that do not already agree with you, then it will backfire with anyone who catches you using such a dishonest tactic.
     I wouldn't pretend to be someone else in order to leave comments. That would be dishonest. I pride myself on integrity. I can respect that you are arguing a position with which I do not agree. I cannot respect a request that I hold my tongue over it, or even (which is much the same thing) to limit my comments. Furthermore, I suspect that, if someone was seeking to persude those who agreed with you to an opposing position and asked you to limit your comments, you would be offended.

Pvblivs said...

     The problem with assuming the christian god for the sake of an argument is that the description is logically contradictory. What I have done is propose, for the sake of argument, that some being created us and showed that some aspect of the description must be violated.
     There is another catch. I refuse to worship an omnipotent fiend. To be true to that principle, I must refuse to worship any being indistinguishable to the best of my knowledge from an omnipotent fiend. The condition of some unknown justification X is indistinguishable from there being no justification.

Dr. V said...

Pvblivs,

The pattern I mentioned in my earlier comment(the pattern about my carefully crafted arguments falling on deaf ears) has obviously continued, so I think it's time for our relationship to end.

Before I say good-bye, here are a couple of books I recommend to you: (1) Michael Peterson et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, 4th edition (Oxford University Press, 2009); (2) Trudy Govier, A Practical Study of Argument, 7th edition (Wadsworth/ Thomson, 2010). Also, I am glad that you have integrity and that it is a source of pride for you.

Good-bye Pvblivs.

Hendrik

Dr. V said...

Christopher,

I apologize for taking so long to respond. As I mentioned, you raise some important questions that deserve some thoughtful replies. I’ll reply in three parts.


Hendrik’s reply to Christopher (Part 1)

Christopher wrote:

I have found the 'free-will' defense to be rather, well, loose. That is, it doesn't really help. When it comes down to it, the free-will defense simply ends with the mystery that we don't know why such-and-such evil act happens; it's a mystery. A mystery is not an answer. It is a bigger question.

Hendrik’s reply:

First, and I strongly suspect that you are aware of this (but I’ll point it out for our readers), we should be clear that in this week’s column I’m not setting out or directly discussing the free will defence.

Second—now that we are discussing the free will defence—it helps to keep in mind its purpose. Its purpose is to respond to the charge that there is a logical contradiction between (a) the concept of God (who is alleged to be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful) and (b) the existence of evil (which clearly exists). The contradiction charge says it’s logically impossible for God and evil to co-exist; however, the free will defence sets out a logical possibility which diffuses the logical impossibility charge. The possibility of the creatures being given free will with respect to God (which provides the creatures with the choice to love God or not) allows for the possibility of evil (because choosing not to love God, who is the good, is tantamount to choosing evil). (For more on the free will defence, see my 23 April 2009 Apologia column “Evil and the Free Will Defence”.)

Third, I think that you are correct to say that free will is a mystery. However, I think we would be mistaken if we think that a mystery is not or cannot be an answer—especially if there is evidence which points to it. The idea of a free agent, although we can’t really explain what a free agent is, can make sense of several phenomena of experience. It makes sense of my personal experience when I make choices. It seems very much to be the case that I freely choose some things, such as what to eat, what to buy my wife for Christmas, whether I’ll watch TV tonight, whether I’ll have a second helping, whether I’ll be patient, whether I’ll obey the speed limit when nobody is looking, etc. Also, if I assume that there is no free will, various counter-intuitive results or absurdities obtain. If I suppose that I have no free will, then I would have no control at all. But his seems to go against my raw intuition of personal control. If I suppose that I have no free will, then my thought processes would be wholly determined by blind physical causal forces so my reasoning ultimately hasn’t a grounding in rationality. But this would mean that the idea of not having free will would not be reasonable—it would simply be forced onto me by the chemicals of, say, my breakfast. If I suppose that I have no free will, then I am not really responsible for any of my behaviours because I have no choice. But it’s pretty clear that I am responsible for at least some of my behaviours. So, yes, even though free will is mysterious, positing its existence makes sense of our experience. This is not to say that we will never explain free will; rather, it’s to say that it seems very much to exist, whether we can explain it or not. Not being to explain it (whether just right now or never) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Or consider the mystery of light. The fact that scientists have/had trouble explaining light doesn’t mean light doesn’t exist, nor does it mean that light can’t be an explanation of, say, shadows. I think that the standard Big Bang singularity is a mystery too (which scientist and philosophers try to explain), but that doesn’t mean there was no Big Bang nor that it doesn’t explain the subsequent patterns in the universe. So a mystery can be an answer and be a bigger question.

Dr. V said...

Hendrik’s reply to Christopher (Part 2)

Christopher wrote:

More, being freely willing people, our imago dei puts God at the center of responsibility for the evil in the world. For if we would willingly intervene in moral evils in an attempt to stop them, then why does it seem God does not? Aren't our moral standards reflective of his, since he gave them to us? Shouldn't he be jumping in just as freely as we would? If not, does that mean then, that our free-will implies God can act passively (or not at all) in regards to evil, just like we sometimes do?

Also, I think the idea of a parent helping out his/her child is a powerful illustration, but not wholly fitting for an answer to suffering. Take the Old Testament, for example, God's children mess up, so he has the Baylonians and Assyrians imprison them, torture them, rape and mutilate them, rip open the bellies of pregnant women and dash their in utero against rocks...That doesn't seem overly parental, does it?....

Hendrik's reply:

First, I think that a case could be made for thinking that God is responsible for the possibility of evil when God makes creatures that have freedom and can choose to reject the good. However, I think that it does not follow from this that therefore God is centrally responsible for evil. With freedom comes responsibility. Those who exercise their freedom are responsible.

Second, I agree that our moral standards are reflective of God’s standards, but we also need to couple this to our finite nature vis-à-vis God’s nature. The point of the Einstein-kindergartener and father-toddler examples is that even though the kindergartener and toddler share much with Einstein and the father, respectively, there is also a vast difference. This difference has primarily to do with the limits to our understanding. Moreover, in the father-toddler example, the father and son clearly share the same moral standards, but the toddler doesn’t understand the larger purpose when the father inflicts the pain. Intellectual humility is in order if we’re talking about God.

Steve Bell has an audio magazine Listening In which focused on the topic “Can God Be Trusted” and featured various guests, including Regent College’s John Stackhouse, the author of Can God Be Trusted (Oxford University Press 2000). In the CD one of the guests is a fellow who is dying of a terrible disease (and has since died). Bell asks the fellow whether he would wish anything to be different in his life. After a pause, the fellow aswers No. It turns out that his illness is drawing him closer to God and it’s good. It seems that God is after something from us that isn’t dependent on us having good health and wealth—and yet it’s better than good health and wealth.

Does this mean that God isn’t acting in our world of suffering? In the case of the dying fellow in Steve Bell’s interview, it seems that God is acting in the suffering. Just not the way I (or most of us) would have expected. Clearly, though, in this case God seems to be a Comforter that’s closer than a friend could ever be.

Of course, the above case isn't typical of all suffering. And here I must acknowledge my lack of knowledge. But I must also point to what I do know or have good reason to believe, i.e., general evidence of God’s existence. This evidence shows, it seems to me, that God exists and cares for his creatures. But, and more importantly, I point to Jesus Christ. I am a Christian primarily because of Christ. The historical reality of His resurrection gives me a sign that He is who He claims to be, i.e., the Creator God described in the Bible. The historical reality of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion for us (as punishment for sin) shows me that God loves us, even though I don’t understand all there is to know about God. But this I do understand: God has jumped into the world’s mess, and death hasn’t got the last word.

Dr. V said...

Hendrik’s reply to Christopher (Part 3)

Christopher wrote:

I wonder if our typical responses as Christians regarding theodicy actually misses the character of God? Perhaps God is different than we think he is?

Hendrik’s reply:

There has been quite a bit of work done on theodicy and there is variation. So the variation may give us a better glimpse of God’s character. Is God different than we think he is? I suppose it depends on who we talk to or read. I realize that we shouldn’t put God is a conceptual box, because no box is big enough to capture God. But, I quickly add, we also need to realize that, on the Christian view at least, God reveals a conceptual “box” of sorts to us. I think that the key to this box (treasure chest?) is to look to Christ. His life, death, and resurrection provide us with a sign to take Him seriously, even (or especially?) if we struggle with understanding God’s actions in the Old Testament. In Christ, it seems to me, God is revealed most clearly.

On the questions having to do with God’s action in the Old Testament, I recommend Paul Copan’s article “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster: The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics”. (Copan also has other helpful material here.)

Christopher, I should stop. I hope that the above replies have been helpful (or at least a wee bit helpful).

With best regards to you and yours,
Hendrik

Dr. V said...

Dear readers of Apologia,

For the sake of not letting falsehoods and poor reasoning go unchecked, I am going to have the last word (at least on this blog) concerning the allegations set out by Pvblivs (above).

Allegation 1

Re: The allegation that I am a hypocrite for not allowing bad arguments from Pvblivs go unchallenged yet I will not allow the same for Pvblivs with respect to my arguments.

My reply: There is no hypocrisy. Pvblivs can still challenge what he takes to be bad arguments, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not stopping him. He can write letters to the editor of the newspaper in which my column appears, he can write his own newspaper column, he can write his own blog. The point is that I simply don’t want any more of Pvblivs’s bad arguments on my blog. I am tired of cleaning up his messes. I have been gracious to Pvblivs as a guest on my blog (see the nine-month history of our discussion for substantiation). The guest has worn out his welcome.

Allegation 2

Re: The allegation that I am suppressing dissent by asking Pvblivs not to leave any more comments.

My reply: See my reply to allegation 1 and instead of “hypocrisy” read “suppressing of dissent.” I would add that one can still favour free speech and freedom to dissent yet not be required to invite everyone at all times into all of one’s circles of conversation—especially when there are many other speech venues readily available.

Allegation 3

Re: The allegation that I have not demonstrated Pvblivs’s criticisms to be faulty.

My reply: This is false. Please read my work more carefully.

Allegation 4

Re: The allegation that I “can't be the judge of what constitutes a good argument” because I have "a dog in the fight" and I am “an advocate” and this “disqualifies [me] from being a fair judge.”

My reply: This is CRAPP (where CRAPP = Completely Ridiculous and Atrocious Philosophical Position). Surely, a person can have “a dog in the fight” and still tell which dog wins the fight. Speaking of fights, one of my sons has several black belts (and degrees) in various martial arts and he is a highly trained kick boxer. I have seen many of his tests and some of his fights. Sure, I am my son's advocate (I love him!) and so I wish the outcomes would always be in his favour; but my judgments about his performances have usually coincided with that of the judges (and the outcomes are not always in his favour). This is because I have studied my son’s training for many years. This enables me to discern when he excels—or not—in a martial arts test or fight, in spite of my biases. The situation is relevantly similar in the case of argument. Because I have spent many years studying logic and critical thinking at the undergraduate and graduate levels (even with some world-class critical thinking and logic specialists), and because I have spent many years observing as well as engaging in arguments, I have learned to discern what constitutes a good argument and I have learned to recognize personal bias (my own especially, plus that of others) and guard against its influence. The point: Personal bias cannot be eliminated, to be sure, but it can be managed reasonably well, if one is disciplined.

Sure, it would be nice to have judges who have no dogs in the fight, but, still, not having such judges doesn't preclude the possibility that, at the end of a skirmish, one can correctly discern that one's own dog is left standing—even if the other dog owner refuses to acknowledge this. So, contrary what Pvblivs alleges, having "a dog in the fight" does not preclude recognizing which dog is the better dog.

Allegation 5

Re: The allegation that the Christian God is a fiend.

Reply: When thinking about God, intellectual humility is in order. Remember the intellectual distance between the kindergarten child and Einstein. Remember the intellectual distance between the toddler and the father. Look more carefully. Look especially at Christ. He is no fiend.

Hendrik

Pvblivs said...

     "My reply: There is no hypocrisy. Pvblivs can still challenge what he takes to be bad arguments, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not stopping him. He can [shout at a brick wall.]"
     There is hypocrisy. Dr V is relying on the fact that if I am barred from addressing his bad arguments at the source that much of his audience will not hear the refutation. Does he have integrity? I would like to think that some christians are honest and have integrity. But by saying "the guest has worn out his welcome" he shows that he wants to control perception.
     "Personal bias cannot be eliminated, to be sure, but it can be managed reasonably well, if one is disciplined."
     Submitted to any readers: His very call on me not to respond to his bad arguments shows that he is not managing his personal bias.
     "Re: The allegation that I have not demonstrated Pvblivs’s criticisms to be faulty. My reply: This is false. Please read my work more carefully."
     I have no doubt he believes his own claim. I, obviously, dispute it. I invite the reader to review and come to his own conclusion.
     "When thinking about God, intellectual humility is in order."
     It doesn't help. One is, at best, assuming that there are unknown justifications. There might be. But since they are unknown (to us -- if they even exist) we cannot distinguish the situation from one in which there are no justifications.

Dr. V said...

Dear Pvblivs,

You have again set out some poor thinking that I will disentangle for you. So here we go again, in six parts. (But please know that this is the last time. Future comments from you will not be posted.)

Part 1

Pvblivs quoted Hendrik as follows:

"My reply: There is no hypocrisy. Pvblivs can still challenge what he takes to be bad arguments, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not stopping him. He can [shout at a brick wall.]"

Hendrik’s reply:

Your bracketed insertion misrepresents what I said. (Note: Misrepresenting another person is a serious mistake.) In response to your allegation that I am suppressing freedom of dissent, I didn’t say you should go “shout at a brick wall.” I wrote this: “Pvblivs can still challenge what he takes to be bad arguments, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not stopping him. He can write letters to the editor of the newspaper in which my column appears, he can write his own newspaper column, he can write his own blog. The point is that I simply don’t want any more of Pvblivs’s bad arguments on my blog. I am tired of cleaning up his messes. I have been gracious to Pvblivs as a guest on my blog (see the nine-month history of our discussion for substantiation). The guest has worn out his welcome.”

Part 2

Pvblivs wrote:

[B]y saying "the guest has worn out his welcome" he [Hendrik] shows that he wants to control perception.

Hendrik’s reply:

You still don’t get it. The core issue has to do with me not letting lousy arguments go unchecked. It turns out that you have a nine-month track record of setting out poor arguments. And it turns out that I simply don’t want to use my blog as a place to showcase your poor arguments. The core issue doesn’t have to do with me controlling perception (though it’s true that I don’t want to give readers the perception that lousy arguments are good); the core issue has to do with me not letting lousy arguments—your lousy arguments—go unchecked (on my blog). As I’ve stated previously (but will repeat here for clarity’s sake): Pvblivs often sets out criticisms of my columns; his criticisms are consistently poor from the point of view of logic and critical thinking; I take much time and effort to carefully craft good arguments that show Pvblivs’s criticisms are in fact poor from the point of view of logic and critical thinking; my arguments fall on deaf ears.

Dr. V said...

Part 3

Pvblivs wrote:

[Hendrik’s] very call on me not to respond to his bad arguments shows that he is not managing his personal bias.

Hendrik’s reply:

Again this misrepresents what’s going on. I am not calling on Pvblivs not to respond to my (allegedly) bad arguments. Pvblivs is welcome to respond to my arguments. I am merely asking that he do it elsewhere. As I wrote (above, at least twice), Pvblivs can write letters to the editor of the newspaper in which my column appears, or Pvblivs can write his own column, or Pvblivs can write his own blog.

In other words, Pvblivs’s criticism is off the mark. My asking him not to leave any more comments on my blog really has nothing to do with me managing or not managing my personal bias. It’s more of a case of me managing the biased expressions of one of my readers.

Maybe this will help. What’s happening here is sort of like the case of a teacher asking a student who clearly doesn’t understand the lessons to stop displaying his ignorance via his outbursts and thereby let the lessons continue. As any teacher knows, sometimes a teacher has to ask a student (who can’t keep up) not to slow down the teacher’s lesson. And sometimes the teacher simply doesn’t have the time or energy to be a private tutor for the student who is having difficulty. (It turns out that I simply can’t be Pvblivs’s private tutor in philosophy. I don’t have the time and energy to continually demonstrate the problems in Pvblivs’s arguments.)

Part 4

Pvblivs wrote:

"Re: The allegation that I [Hendrik] have not demonstrated Pvblivs’s criticisms to be faulty. My [Hendrik’s] reply: This is false. Please read [Hendrik’s] work more carefully." I [Pvblivs] have no doubt he believes his own claim. I, obviously, dispute it. I invite the reader to review and come to his own conclusion.

Hendrik’s reply:

Yes, I invite the reader to review our discussions too. This is good. I also encourage the reader to read carefully.

Dr. V said...

Part 5

Pvblivs wrote:

[Re: Hendrik’s claim:] "When thinking about God, intellectual humility is in order." It doesn't help. One is, at best, assuming that there are unknown justifications. There might be. But since they are unknown (to us -- if they even exist) we cannot distinguish the situation from one in which there are no justifications.

Hendrik’s reply:

Surely, intellectual humility is in order when one is thinking about God. In fact, such humility is philosophically appropriate and not to think this is to display an intellectual attitude that is philosophically inappropriate (it’s called arrogance). Moreover, contrary to what Pvblivs asserts, yes, it does help to be intellectually humble. Please think carefully with me.

Recall that the criticism based on allegedly pointless evil is supposed to be a criticism of the Christian God. However, as a criticism of the Christian God—who is alleged to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good—we simply cannot reasonably make the judgment that apparently pointless evils are in fact pointless. To think otherwise is tantamount to thinking that a kindergartener can know more about physics than Einstein, or that a toddler knows more about medicine than his father, or that a chess novice knows more about chess than Bobby Fischer, or that a grade 1 piano player knows more about music than Beethoven, or that a grade 2 art student knows more about art than Rembrandt van Rijn, etc. Now (and this gets ignored all too often in this sort of discussion), when we address the apparently pointless evil in the world, we should also address evidence that points to God’s care. In other words, pros and cons should be addressed, not just cons. So, in the case of the toddler whose chin gets sewn up by the child’s father, to make a judgment about whether the toddler is being abused or not, we should also take into account positive evidence of the father’s care. Is there such evidence in the case of the Christian God? The answer is Yes. Also, this evidence is often ignored because it’s so familiar and so we take it for granted. Consider the evidence of the following elements of creation: the universe, us, gravity (which keeps us and our solar system from expanding with the expanding universe); an earth that provides us with seasons; not just food but delicious food, apples, oranges, grapes; beautiful sunsets, beautiful lakes, beautiful forests, beautiful mountains, beautiful deserts, beautiful flowers; the pleasure of living, the pleasure of smelling a flower, the pleasure of sex; our capacity to think logically and be creative and explore the universe and live a life of adventure, mountain climbing, skiing, sailing; our capacity to love, the pleasure of sex, our capacity for joy and humor (yes, as a wee attempt at humor, I mentioned sex twice); children, friends, the freedom to choose—the list goes on and on. But consider too—and especially—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection provides us with a sign that Jesus is God and God’s ultimate personal revelation to us. Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection provides us with a sign for taking seriously Jesus’ gospel or good news, i.e., that forgiveness for our evil behavior is available—and that death is not the last word.

So we have pros and cons, not just cons. We need to look not just at the evils, but also at the goods. Surely, there must be quite a few goods—enough to keep the vast, vast majority of us from deliberately committing suicide. So, contrary to what Pvblivs thinks, we can and do have grounds for thinking—reasonably hoping—that there is a justification for apparently pointless evils. When we take into account all the goods as well as evils, and especially when we take into account Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the existence of a justification of apparently pointless evil is not just a “might” (mere logical possibility), it’s a reasonably grounded “might” (i.e., an epistemological might, which is much more than a mere logical possibility). This is significant.

Dr. V said...

Part 6

Final farewell to Pvblivs

Pvblivs, before I say my final farewell to you, please know that I encourage you to read and study some good books: Michael Peterson et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, 4th edition (Oxford University Press 2009); and Trudy Govier, A Practical Study of Argument, 7th edition (Wadsworth/ Cengage 2010). Another good book is William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition (Crossway 2008). I also encourage you to visit William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith.

Good-bye Pvblivs. It really is time for you to move on. Any future comments from you will be neither read nor posted (or they will be deleted if they get accidently posted).

Hendrik

photosynthesis said...

Sometimes pvblivs astounds me at the simplicity with which he can reveal the faults in some arguments.

This is the case.

So, Hendrik, your point is: Since we do not know how God thinks, we cannot know why he allows what is "pointless evil" only from our perspective.

I would say that God would then be a failure if he cannot even allow us, for our own sanity, to understand the crap when it comes our way.

This is just a way of always winning: I do not know but God does. Simple. No thinking necessary.

I think this is a non-argument. A way with words for allowing yourself to keep the fantasy going.

G.E.

Dr. V said...

Methinks the arguments of my "non-argument" are being ignored. Oh well.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

For philosopher William Lane Craig's helpful answer to the problem of apparently pointless evil, look here.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

For a video lecture by William Lane Craig on the evidential problem of evil and suffering, look here.