Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brief sketch of my overall argument in the debate

Some have said they struggled to follow my line of argument in the William Lane Craig debate. So here’s a brief overview (check my closing statement too)

[post script - after presenting the evidential problem of evil] I asked Craig to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god - given an evil god is absurd (and Craig agreed it is absurd).

Most people will happily conclude there’s no evil god purely on the basis of the evidential problem of good (whether or not there are other reasons to reject the evil god hypothesis). So why isn’t the problem of evil similarly fatal to belief in a good god?

After all, most standard methods of explaining away the evil can be reversed to explain away the good. E.g. appeal to an afterlife and playing the sceptical, God-has-his-ultimate-reasons-of-which-we’re-ignorant card.

Now Craig, quite amazingly, actually chose to play that sceptical card on the night, endorsing the (highly counter-intuitive and, by him on the night, pretty much unjustified) claim that observation of the the world can give us no grounds at all for supposing there's no evil god (or good god).

But note that that STILL doesn’t help Craig at all, so far as explaining why it’s more reasonable to believe in a good god rather than an evil god (the latter belief being absurd).

The point is this: whether or not Craig plays the sceptical card, he’s still left having to explain why belief in his good god is very significantly more reasonable than the obviously absurd belief that there’s an evil god.

Now, the only arguments he gave to support his specific good god hypothesis were his moral and resurrection arguments. But those arguments, as he gave them on the night, weren’t nearly good enough, if my criticisms were correct (if you unsure about what my criticism were, then check them here and listen to the Q&A where I explained them in more detail) (however, it’s also clear quite a few people didn’t understand them – especially my criticism of the resurrection argument, which is actually a bit more sophisticated and thought-through than it might first appear. It's original, has never been addressed by Craig before in any of his books nor in any debate I've heard, and I'll probably publish it as an academic paper. But, as I say, it seems many in the audience only heard, "Blah, blah, UFOs, blah, blah!").

Notice by the way just how much intellectual heavy-lifting these two arguments had to do to show belief in Craig's god is reasonable. They had to raise his god hypothesis up to being reasonable from a starting position of being downright absurd (i.e. level pegging with the evil god hypothesis). So they had to be really good arguments! It's pretty clear they weren't, especially not as Craig presented them on the night.

So, it appears Craig failed to explain why belief in his good god is significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief that there’s an evil god.

I think quite a lot of people actually grasped that point, and so have switched to “But what about a deist god, then”? Someone actually shouted that out during my closing statement.

Well, I went this debate with one aim – to undermine belief in one specific god: Craig’s.

The debate was “Does God exist?” And both Craig and myself understood “God” to be defined, in this context, as his all-powerful and good god.

I think an impartial observer will find it pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that I won in terms of the arguments given on the night (though of course you might say I still lost the debate in terms of presentations skills, rhetoric, and so on; and you might still think that, given other arguments, the issue remains far from settled, or even that it can be settled in Craig's favour).

Some thoughtful Christians are being fair-minded and generous enough to say I won the arguments on the night (e.g. apologiapad: "Bill Craig loses a debate!") - which is good of them.

PS This all followed the evidential problem of evil argument, of course.

PPS. Many - incl even some atheists - have the mistaken impression that atheists need to come up with an account of moral value if they are to defeat Craig's moral argument. That's obviously not the case. In fact, it's a big strategic mistake to even try. The onus is not on me to come up with an account. It's on him to show his premises are true. His argument for his first premise (rejected even by Swinburne) was, in effect: "This evolutionary account of moral belief fails to make the belief true, so no atheist account of what makes them true can be given". That's an obviously fallacious inductive argument. But that's actually all he gave on the night.

PPPS I am out of the country for a while from tomorrow am....

153 comments:

Heuristics said...

So, if I understand it correctly, there was no argument, there was a question?

Paul Crowley said...

I'm sorry to say that this atheist attender didn't think you won! I'll try to do a more detailed writeup, but it felt like there were a number of places where you didn't really press your advantage, and let WLC get away with creating a very misleading impression of where the argument was. Still, I think it's clear that the evil-God argument has got real force - it'll be interesting to see what responses come up.

Stephen Law said...

Heuristics. Of course, all of the above followed an argument - the evidential problem of evil.

Paul - I'll be interested to hear your thoughts. I don't doubt Craig did try to give a misleading impression and that I might have failed to counter it.

unitedandy said...

Stephen,

Given that both of you seemed to agree that the question "does God exist?" amounts to, "does an omniscient, omnipotent AND wholly good being exist?", Craig's inability to defend the last attribute (largely due to both the evil God challenge, and your fantastic critique of the moral argument) gives you the edge in the debate, in my judgement.

Perhaps in terms of counting the arguments, both of you won 2 each, but given both Craig's insistence on a "cumulative case for theism", and his admission that God must be necessarily wholly good (in dismissing the evil God hypothesis an not really "God), it really does relegate Kalam, and even the resurrection to secondary concerns, because whatever the cause of these things, it can't be Craig's God. In other words, his own case seemed to backfire, and you really did do your homework on him.

I'm still shocked Craig didn't really seem to understand the evil God challenge (repeatedly appealing to concerns over inductively discerning God's nature), but as you repeatedly called him on it (as well as things like his charge of authority, mythical Jesus, and so on), I think it clear that you won overall.

Congrats again.

Stephen Law said...

btw I do understand that some atheists will be frustrated that I didn't also argue against the cosmological argument, or a deist god, etc. I didn't argue for atheism regarding ALL gods (including Thor and Zeus, I suppose?) Just Craig's God.

However, surely establishing the non-existence of Craig's God would be no minor achievement?

The Uncredible Hallq said...

I have to say I was a bit disappointed about you leaving your response to Craig's arguments until the last rebuttal, and you didn't seem really clear on the irrelevance of Kalam until your closing speech.

That said, it's good to see some pushback on attempts by people like Craig to "define God down," so that they're nor arguing for God so much as something kind-of-sort-of-like-a-god. And it seems like some Christians agree.

Jacob said...

I wrote some miscellaneous thoughts here for anyone interested: https://www.facebook.com/notes/jacob-funnell/miscellaneous-comments-on-the-stephen-law-vs-william-lane-craig-debate/10150880942375188

triscele said...

I still don't understand how Craig convinces anyone other than those already in his camp. Seems his argument boils down to I believe all the things I say so they must be true. IMO weak.

Paul Wright said...

I blogged about the debate: the bit where I review, rather than just summarise, is here.

downtown dave said...

Everyone who claims there is no God loses the debate on the terms that God has proven Himself to all men and is holding them accountable to the proof.

Richard said...

Help this atheist out -> you argued that yes, god exists, but there's a 50/50 chance he's evil. How does this help?

Matt said...

It seems like lots of people don't recognize that WLC's argument really requires this chain of logic:

1. The universe was created by something intelligent.

2. Given that (1) is true, we can show that that intelligence is omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent, and we call this God.

3. Given that (2) is true, we can show that that God is the Christian God.

If any of these points is not demonstrated, the argument fails. Since (1) is not falsifiable (in the same sense that Last Thursdayism is not falsifiable), better to confront (2) and (3). I thought Prof. Law was very effective with this -- but if the weakness of the above chain had been more clear, it might have countered some of the day after chirping from WLC's fan club.

Matt said...

I should add, WLC called it a cumulative argument, but of course, it's not, it's a serial argument and quite a brittle one at that.

Anonymous said...

The argument for the Resurrection, if successful, provides evidence of the interference of a Good God, NOT an evil Anti-God creator.

Stephen your fundamental mistake, as Craig said, is failing to recognise that Christians do not look at the world around them and say "Oh, this God I believe in, I guess he must be good!".

Your argument cannot be allowed to exist in a vacuum (which it would need to be if it was to be entirely successful). We must also ponder theological considerations from revelation and consider the evidence for the Resurrection.

Stephen Law said...

Hi anonymous. You have entirely misunderstood my argument. I don't claim, or assume, that Christians base their judgement of what God is like on observation of the world. Obviously they don't.

BTW - to all readers, I just took the liberty of amending the above post a bit, especially on resurrection argument. Before dismissing my criticism of it, make sure you have actually understood my criticism.

Paul Wright said...

You have entirely misunderstood my argument. I don't claim, or assume, that Christians base their judgement of what God is like on observation of the world.

Well, some of them seem to: I've certainly heard arguments from beauty (in the world), for example. It's possible that those arguments aren't the real reason that person believes God is good and they're more like devotional statements.

Do you think the Christian who thought you won has summarised your argument correctly? (Numbered premises, halfway down the page). Could you lay it out in that sort of way? Craig's fond of doing that and it's pretty effective, it seems to me.

Stevo said...

Stephen:

I just wanted to say how shocked I am that some folks think Craig won that debate. Reading some of these comments...I don't feel we watched the same debate! I'm a Christian theist myself, but I think you pwned. Congrats, first debate I've seen Craig lose. (And it's not about winning or losing, I just mean given the material presented in the debate *alone* I'd conclude belief in the Christian God is irrational)

Stevo said...

Sorry, I also just wanted to say I think your case for atheism takes out the Resurrection argument as well. 'God raised Jesus from the dead' (R), will only be probable if God exists and would desire to raise Jesus. Your Evil God Challenge (etc.) takes out the God needed to make R probable.

Mark said...

Some thoughts on the debate from an agnostic perspective - http://mb27.blogspot.com/2011/10/william-lane-craig-vs-stephen-law.html

Given Craig's reputation for winning debates, I thought he'd do well here, but I don't think he did.

Peter said...

Just a few tenative thoughts on your case.

I think what you have exposed is that the theist has some other reason for why they believe God is good.

I like how this exposes approaches like Craig's in which he attempts to build upwards to a concept of God based solely on the natural theological arguments he has provided. So I think your case here was successful in showing that he does not properly justify his belief in a good God.

My personal opinion as a theist is that Craig should be running some form of Kantian moral argument with recourse to concepts of justice and an afterlife making morality rational. I agree with Swinburne, whom you mentioned in the debate, as I don't find Craig's 'objective morality' argument convincing.

Now what about these other reasons for a good God.

Belief in a good God is I think for the theist on an epistemological level similar every persons intuitive grasp of morality. Something that we don't come at from argument but by our intuitions. As well as the factor that all religious texts are tied up with a sense of morality. (The prophets i.e. Isaiah, and the ways in which the teachings of Jesus seem to challenge people to a higher moral level). This is my experience as a religious person.

This is not so strange, and is what theories such as Reformed Epistemology are getting at. Belief in God being a properly basic belief for the theist and not grounded in an argument. So also, if our moral intuitions work this way, then our ideas of a good God may also too.

As a more psychological point. I think that belief in a good God is, in William Jamesian terms, a live belief option while belief in an evil God is a dead one for a theist. While I imagine for an atheist the idea of an evil-God has some more psychological weight as God is just a philosopical idea not an existential commitment. A theist will just find the argument from an evil-God philosophically interesting, but ultimately unconvincing. It may cause the theist to consider on the basis of the evidence whether there may not exist some morally neutal Zeus like God, that better explains both the good and evil in the world. But probably he will reject this as his belief in God is not based on argument.

And, coincidently, all the skeptical theist replies will still go through for the only concept of God a theist is likely to believe in.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boris said...

Hi Stephen. What would you say to someone who wouldn’t “happily conclude there’s no evil god purely on the basis of the evidential problem of good”. Would you just appeal to authority “Craig agreed it is absurd”? (I heard him say it’s logically inconsistent due to the definition of God – is this what you’re referring to?) Beyond that you only say that it’s “absurd”, “obviously absurd”, “downright absurd” and an “absurd belief”. Do you have any reasons you can give, or is it just a faith commitment?

Bradley C. said...

I liked your argument against the resurrection, and I think most Christians fail to realize how incomsistent their belief that the resurrection is reasonable is. I have also attempted to use a modern day equivalent to point that out, but with some of the details of the argument different. It involves a modern claim of a man coming back to life. I submitted it to Craig as a Question of the Week on his website, but he hasn't touched it.

I thought Craig lost the debate by stating the absurdity of the "Anti-God" but then never responding to your Evil God Challenge. His cosmological argument failed because he said straight up that unless the being was all good it couldn't be called God.

I also thought it odd that his rebuttal to your rebuttal of his moral argument was that you were appealing to authority, when in actuality you were using quotes in the exact same way he uses them.

John Danaher said...

I posted some thoughts on the possible uses of the Evil God challenge on my blog, if anyone's interested.

Not a review of the debate as such but rather an attempt to understand the EGC.

What can Law's Evil God Challenge Do?

bossmanham said...

If you were just arguing against Dr. Craig's God, Dr. Law, then why would you bring up the evil god hypothesis? This is one of the worst attempts at sophism that is out there in religious philosophy. How can you consider said evil god to be analogous at all to the Christian God, who is the greatest conceivable being. I can conceive of a being greater than the evil one, namely a good one. Further, since most theists posit God's nature as the basis of morality, such that acting against His nature would be to act in an evil way, then you're just relabeling what would then properly be called "good" as "evil." It does nothing to defeat the God hypothesis.

If you can handle some criticism, then to sum up my thoughts on your arguments: they were spectacularly bad. The evil god hypothesis doesn't prove anything, and is a practice in incoherence. You call some of the most scrutinized and well thought out arguments for God "weak," which is silly since if they were so weak you should have been able to argue against them pretty easily. Yet you don't really argue against any of them. Dr. Law, however, you did do much better at preparing for the debate than most atheists. You still stank up the joint.

From an abrasive American.

bossmanham said...

FYI, if it's not clear it's part of the definition of God to be perfectly good, so arguing against an evil very powerful being is arguing something, but not against God.

Anonymous said...

@Stephen Law:

Ballsy! I'm rather surprised Craig seemed as tripped up as he did over the evil god ploy...I figured he'd just whip up a smoke screen of Latin phrases to take care of that. It's an interesting argument to me, I've been using a similar argument that's more based in epistemology (i.e. how can you know that God is good? And if you can't know, how can you morally justify worship of a potentially malevolent being? for that matter, how do we know god's not a rationalist who will reward those skeptical of his existence in the next life while damning the faithful to an eternity of wearing soggy shoes?).

I'd like to mention an objection a few folks have made, specifically that by definition God must be good. This doesn't actually impact the argument as Steven might have already stated somewhere. "Evil god" is just a handle for an idea, and the idea is that there is a God but rather than being a compassionate, pro-human god it is a sadistic, anti-human god. Then by definition human suffering is good. And it doesn't matter whether it seems bad to us since god is the one determining what's good and evil, not your idiosyncratic preferences.

The argument then becomes simply whether human suffering is good or bad from god's perspective. Given the amount and degree of human suffering, Stephen's line of reasoning has as much force as ever: assume there is a god. How do we know whether god wants us to suffer or not?

Finally, it's amazing to me how many theists still ignore the question of burden of proof. I see so many complaints that there's no positive argument for the nonexistence of god...of course not! Existential claims are not symmetric with respect to truth value. You can't provide evidence for the non-existence of something. (Well, technically via Bayes theorem a lack of evidence for a phenomenon is very, very weak evidence against the phenomenon.)

-Dan L.

Anonymous said...

How can you consider said evil god to be analogous at all to the Christian God, who is the greatest conceivable being. I can conceive of a being greater than the evil one, namely a good one.

Wait a second...I thought that God was good by definition. You seem to be leaping to the conclusion that a god who desires human suffering is evil, but since good and evil are defined with reference to the preferences of God, isn't that really up to Him? Just because you don't like the idea that human suffering is good doesn't make it false.

Further, since most theists posit God's nature as the basis of morality, such that acting against His nature would be to act in an evil way, then you're just relabeling what would then properly be called "good" as "evil." It does nothing to defeat the God hypothesis.

This doesn't help you. People do many horrifying things to each other, theists no less than anyone else. Perhaps the people doing horrifying things to each other are acting according to god's nature and it is you evil, contrarian altruists that are ruining His great plans.

Your second paragraph is all posturing. Try to stick to the arguments.

-Dan L.

Don Severs said...

Prof. Law:

I'd like to run this by you:

Prof. Craig argues our failure to discern god’s reasons is not a good reason to suppose he does not have them.

It seems that omnipotence obviates this move. An all-powerful God could reach any end via any means. Thus, suffering would always be optional. There would always be a non-suffering route available to an omnipotent God. Since suffering clearly exists, God must choose it when it is not necessary. Therefore, God, if he exists, is evil.

I haven't heard this objection raised against Craig. What do you think?

Thanks,

Don Severs
Des Moines, IA USA

bossmanham said...

Dan L

Wait a second...I thought that God was good by definition.

Yeah.

You seem to be leaping to the conclusion that a god who desires human suffering is evil,

I argue that such a being is logically incoherent. That being can't exist and possibly be called 'God.' God, by definition is good. Defined as such, God cannot be evil. Ergo Dr. Law is really relying on an incoherent idea to try to argue against God. That never works.

This doesn't help you. People do many horrifying things to each other, theists no less than anyone else.

That's completely irrelevant.

Paul Baird said...

No commentary yet from Peoples or Flannagan, which is strange, they were both hot off the mark with the Harris-Craig debate.

Don Severs said...

Dan L notes that, normally, the argument from evil is not an argument against the existence of God, only against the idea that he is good in the way humans use the word 'good'.

But Law's innovation was to get Craig to admit that an evil god is absurd. Then, Law showed that Craig's evidentiary arguments worked equally well to prove an evil god, thus pinning Craig.

It's rare to see a new parry in this debate. Very satisfying.

bossmanham said...

Don,

But Law's innovation was to get Craig to admit that an evil god is absurd. Then, Law showed that Craig's evidentiary arguments worked equally well to prove an evil god, thus pinning Craig.

But he didn't show that an evil god is absurd, because the argument from good in that case would be like the evidential argument from evil; it proves absolutely nothing about the existence of said being.

An evil god is absurd because an evil, all good being is logically incoherent.

Petra P. said...

Dr Law you stated in the debate that one would not need the concept of good and evil as a non-Christian or atheist.

So why do you use the concept of good and evil at least two times in your good "god" and evil "god" "challenge"?

Moridin Damodred said...

Petra,

Dr. Law said we don't need to invoke good or evil to use the evidential problem of evil.

He did not say we don't need objective moral values (good and evil).

mpg said...

I have to confess that I didn't understand the full implications of your argument before. Now I do. And I think you may have won the debate, on substance if not style.

Your problem is that the argument is quite subtle, which isn't that effective in debate forums.

However, I do think you have potential weaknesses in your approach, namely, you have to show that it is true that the evidence for EG is identical to that of a GG. For example, the simplest explanation for the ubiquity of religious belief is the existence of a Good God, or the rationality of a Good God, if this counts as another line of evidence in favour of the Good God, then the evidence isn't balanced, there is at least, one more piece of evidence in favour of Good God. At least, so it seems to me.

But I just wanted to congratulate you on a very smart argument.

Johnny P said...

AS with others, I have reviewed this debate. I was privileged to be there and speak to both debaters after the debate. I think some posters and some Christians I spoke to at the debate miss the fact that all of Craig's arguments, but specifically the Moral Argument, relied on bare assertion as foundation to the premises.
Also, Craig seemed generally weak - not only offering a 3 pronged approach and not really defending his arguments as well as normal. One of weakest debates.

http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/a-tps-blog.php

Michael Ames Connor said...

SL: Enjoyed your debate work. The kids and I read your books together, lots of good discussion.

I'm confused why it is hard to have objective morality without gods. Here's my driving-home take:

Any action (or inaction...) that causes gratuitous suffering is wrong. The degree of wrong relates to the degree of suffering and gratuity.

So for an act we ask:
Was there suffering?
Was it gratuitous?
Did the action or inaction lead to it?

Sure, lots of arguments about suffering, cause, and gratuitousness. But that's okay, right?

And there are naturalistic forces behind the conversation: our capacity to recognize suffering. Our ability to detect cause and effect, and so on.

What do you think?

Best, Michael

Stephen Law said...

Well thanks very much mpg it is good of you to say that. I accept that the argument I ran on the night might have been too subtle to grasp quickly. However it'll be there on youtube forever for people to paw over.

You make an interesting point. The ubiquity of religious belief might be better accounted for by an evil god, who will not nec want us to know what he is like. He may appear in religious experiences and do miracles in his good guise, but making different claims to believe. Then he just stands back and watches as the different religions he has started tear into each other each utterly convinced by rel experience and miracles that they know The Truth.

If there was a good god, he wouldn't distribute religous experience and miracles in that way, surely. So it's by no means obvious rel experience and miracles give greater support to a good god.

In any case, even if they did, it surely would be enough to raise the good god hypothesis up the scale of reasonableness from a starting point of downright absurd (due to evidential problem of evil).

Stephen Law said...

hi Petra

I used "good" and "evil" because that's the traditional way to set up the problem.

Also, to be honest, I used it because I knew Craig would run that silly argument and so Knew I could start off with one clear and decisive refutation of one of his argument/criticisms.

Unfortunately, not everyone understood.

However, what I said is basic philosophy of religion, and well-known in philosophical circles where it would'nt even need mentioning.

Paul Vasquez said...

Is there a difference between the "Evidential problem of evil" and Epicurus' trilemma? If this is a naive or obvious question, please excuse me as I'm not trained as a philosopher; I'm a linguist by trade.

Also, I've always thought that Epicurus' trilemma would be a stronger argument if you substituted the word evil with suffering, since it seems to me that the wor "evil" is meaningless and subjective at best from a secularists point of view.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Paul

The trilemma sets up the logical problem of evil. If cogent it would show any evil at all proves there's no god. Theists love this version as they can easily defeat it by insisting some evils are for greater goods.

I ran the evidential problem.

However it can be put in similar form by e.g. replacing "evil" with "gratuitous suffering".

mpg said...

Your latest point brings in focus the force of your argument. Craig is quite disingenuous if he is arguing that he isn't really arguing for a good God. It seems that Craig, then tried to shift the definition of what God means, to lower his burden of proof. Debating-wise, it was a smart move, but it's completely wrong.

hemiola said...

re: SL October 21, 2011 6:11 AM

A proofreader writes ... pore, not paw, lovely though the latter image is!

O BLOG DA VERDADE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Larsen said...

Stephen, thanks for this clarifying your views in this post. Listening to the debate, it did strike me that you and Craig were talking past each other on occasion, not quite understanding the point that the other was trying to make. (I'm a Christian. I disagree with your conclusions, but I'm grateful to you for making some interesting and reasonable points. Thanks to both you and Craig for having a good dialogue.)

Is the following statement of your position accurate?

(1) Craig's arguments could be used to support Anti-God (an "evil god") to the same extent that they could be used to support God.

(2) Despite the arguments, everyone denies the existence of Anti-God.

(3) Therefore, despite the arguments, everyone should deny the existence of God.

On a cursory examination, it seems to me that this argument relies on a dualistic understanding of good and evil, where absolute evil is the direct contradiction and opposite of absolute good (an analogy might be matter/antimatter). But it seems to me that evil is more like darkness or cold—the absence of good, in the same sense that darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of all heat—and I suspect that this could pose a substantial difficulty to your Anti-God defeater. I'll try to think it through a bit more, though, before I risk embarrassing myself.

Out of interest, what are your thoughts on Plantinga's ontological argument?

John Danaher said...

I'm curious, did anyone go to the Craig-Ahmed (and others) debate at the Cambridge Union last night? Any reports emerging

John Danaher said...

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Don Severs said...

>Law wrote: they can easily defeat it by insisting some evils are for greater goods.

But this can be rejected if God is omnipotent. There can be no reason for an omnipotent, all-good God to allow suffering because it would never be necessary. Any greater good could be achieved with no suffering.

Loving parents often let their kids suffer to achieve a loving end, but only when there is no other way to reach it. God always has options, yet chooses to allow suffering.

Paul Vasquez said...

I was thinking that as well Don. Although I'm certain Professor Law has thought of it as well, so there must be a reason that he didn't use it.

I'm curious if Professor Law or anyone else can recommend further reading on this subject. I am an atheist, and I've read a number of the "new" atheists, as well as some Bertrand Russell, but I would like to study this more rigorous kind of secularism. Also, what branch of philosophy would this be considered? Ethics, metaphysics, etc.?

bin said...

@Stephen Law:

It's imposible for you(everybody) to demonstrate logical the following sentence:"God is evil!" because:
1.Man is immortal,only body die ->so you read only first pages of a book(this life) and judge God ??.But christian God said explicitly this life is NOT ALL .So you judge other god invented by you(fallacy is straw-god ,not straw-man :) ).That evil god invented by you who said this life is everithing and when man die it's all over.

2.You don't know all reasons of God.
If you can refute I am glad to know your reasons

Don Severs said...

>You don't know all reasons of God.

We don't have to know God's reasons. There can be no good reason for allowing suffering when it is not necessary for any purpose.

Anonymous said...

I argue that such a being is logically incoherent. That being can't exist and possibly be called 'God.' God, by definition is good. Defined as such, God cannot be evil. Ergo Dr. Law is really relying on an incoherent idea to try to argue against God. That never works.

No, you assert that such a being is logically incoherent and implicitly assume that what you think of as "good" is objectively good. I don't disagree that God is defined as good. I disagree that "good" necessarily corresponds to what you think it does.

It is completely logically coherent that the good, as determined by the preferences of God, consists primarily of human suffering.

That's completely irrelevant.

I don't see why. The fact that people do horrible things to each other -- even people who've heard the good news -- suggests that whether or not there is such a thing as objective morality people don't have seem to have equal access to it.

Let me ask you a question in all sincerity: do you think that if a wife refuses marital relations with her husband the husband has a right to force himself on her?

-Dan L.

Slimer said...

Don - your argument has emotive appeal, but is rationally unsupportable:

">Law wrote: they can easily defeat it by insisting some evils are for greater goods.

But this can be rejected if God is omnipotent. There can be no reason for an omnipotent, all-good God to allow suffering because it would never be necessary. Any greater good could be achieved with no suffering."

All one needs to do to refute this is to show one event or state of affairs that could only be actualised on the condition that suffering exists. One obvious example is that God couldn’t create a heaven in which people rejoice due to the lack of suffering if they had never been a time when suffering existed.

The basic flaw in your reasoning is that omnipotence doesn’t mean what you think it does. It’s the ability to do all logically possible things, not all things (although strictly speaking, there are no such things as logically impossible things). God’s inability to do things like make a square circle, a married bachelor, or a heavenly realm that is appreciated because of the absence of a never-present suffering in no way counts against his omnipotence.

If your objections comes out of a deeply personal experience of suffering, then you have my sympathy and prayers. I don’t in any way want to trivialise the emotional problem of evil, which is real and painful for so many.

Don Severs said...

>It is completely logically coherent that the good, as determined by the preferences of God, consists primarily of human suffering.

This is true but trivial. I would call such a God evil, but you could just as well call him Good. You can achieve anything by tinkering with definitions.

The argument from evil is an argument against God's Goodness as normally defined by humans, not against his existence.

As Sam Harris says, "all questions of value depend on the possibility of experiencing such value". So, morality will always be about gods or other sentient creatures. We can say that 'true' morality is about pleasing God. But if what pleases God is that some humans suffer needlessly, then he isn't Good by any human standard.

Don Severs said...

>One obvious example is that God couldn’t create a heaven in which people rejoice due to the lack of suffering if they had never been a time when suffering existed.

This doesn't refute the claim. All that is necessary for people to feel pleasure is 'some' pain. If God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world and does not, he is evil.

>God’s inability to do things like make a square circle

I understand your comments about omnipotence. Reducing suffering is not like a square circle. There is nothing impossible or contradictory about it. If God can create the universe, he could reduce the death toll of the Japan tsunami by one more than what we observe.

Leibniz would say that this is the best world God could have made. If this is true, then God is just a special cog in his own machine, as bound by it as we are. This puts an end to intercessory prayer. Any change would be a deviation from perfection.

Anonymous said...

This is true but trivial. I would call such a God evil, but you could just as well call him Good. You can achieve anything by tinkering with definitions.

I agree completely -- you're actually just recapitulating my point.

-Dan L.

Anonymous said...

But if what pleases God is that some humans suffer needlessly, then he isn't Good by any human standard.

According to the usual theist response to Euthyphro's dilemma, this is not a valid argument. "Good" isn't defined w/r/t human standards, it's defined w/r/t God's standards.

Of course, I personally don't object to using human standards. I'm just pointing out that Stephen's argument holds for either horn of Euthyphro you choose to take. And I don't think it's even a particularly good argument, I just think it's interesting that this is the sort of argument that trips up a master debater like WLC.

-Dan L.

Paul Vasquez said...

This argument is degenerating into circularity just as the Sam Harris vs. Craig debate did. I think it is because no one has established at the outset their definitions for good/evil or moral immoral. Furthermore, I will assert that the words good/evil are lazy terms for a secularist to use because they are impossible to define.

Moreover, it seems to me that before we can have a discussion over whether or not an objective morality can exist with or without a god, we first have to establish whether or not an objective morality is something that can exist at all, irrespective of the existence of a god. I suspect it cannot.

Dan L., why should a secularist acknowledge the standards of something that doesn't exist? We could just as easily talk about good and evil according to Zeus' standards, or Izanami's, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster's for that matter. Once you assign a system of morality to something so arbitrary and ambiguous you can assign any random traits to the class of "goodness" and simply say that it is goody by X's standards of goodness and not Y's. This is pointless.

Paul Vasquez said...

Slimer said: "All one needs to do to refute this is to show one event or state of affairs that could only be actualised on the condition that suffering exists. One obvious example is that God couldn’t create a heaven in which people rejoice due to the lack of suffering if they had never been a time when suffering existed."

If he can't create a heaven in which people have never suffered without suffering, then he's not omnipotent. Christians like to have it both ways. He's omnipotent when it's convenient for their argument and impotent when it's not.

Anonymous said...

Dan L., why should a secularist acknowledge the standards of something that doesn't exist? We could just as easily talk about good and evil according to Zeus' standards, or Izanami's, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster's for that matter.

For the sake of argument, of course. As a former math student I'd call it "argument from contradiction." I believe the philosophical equivalent is "reductio ad absurdum"?

-Dan L.

bin said...

"We don't have to know God's reasons. There can be no good reason for allowing suffering when it is not necessary for any purpose."

:) This is a joke? If you don't know somebody's reasons how can you make a judgement?If you don't know a doctor reason to cut out cancer of a pacient, you would think that doctor is a killer.Knowing the reasons you change de judgement.

Is immoral for God to use suffering as a way to select people for heaven ?Says who? If man is immortal suffering is nothing else but a surgery of God to cure cancer . You don't like? Well,that's your emotional problem of pain and have nothing to do with logic and reason.You just try to disguise this with fallacious arguments .

Don Severs said...

>If you don't know somebody's reasons how can you make a judgement?

I sometimes let doctors stick my kid with needles. If I stuck him with needles when there was a less painful way to draw blood, I'd go to jail.

God always has options. He never has to allow suffering.

He could still exist and you can still follow him. But you can not say he is Good the way a human father is good. This is ruled out by the facts.

Don Severs said...

>If you don't know a doctor reason to cut out cancer

This is a false analogy. Human doctors are not omnipotent. They do the best they can. For an omnipotent God, suffering is never necessary.

Don Severs said...

Bin:

The problem lies with the concept of 'omnipotence'. It is probably an incoherent concept and will always bring problems no matter how it is applied.

Religion plays very loose philosophically. Billions of people hold beliefs that are actually impossible.

If you want to defend God, then don't claim he is omnipotent. Omnipotence places God at the scene of every crime, both of commission and omission.

Rabbi Kushner took this route in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wanted God to be Loving, so he acknowledged that God must be weak. He is doing the best he can.

God either can't or won't reduce human suffering. A third option will never appear. If he exists, he is weak or evil. There are no other options.

God: All-loving, All-powerful, Allows suffering. Pick two.

John Piippo said...

Professor Law: How about this as a rebuttal?

Love is only “love” if freely chosen.

Evil is “evil,” whether freely chosen or not.

The relationship between the two theodicies is not isomorphic.

Therefore the two theodicies cannot be “flipped around.”

bin said...

"God always has options. He never has to allow suffering."

:) God has only logical options and if he allow suffering for a greater good where is the logic of your judgement? You just don't like the ideea of suffering (emotional) but you don't have logical arguments .

"This is a false analogy. Human doctors are not omnipotent. "

Is best analogy .You don't know(or ignore intentionally) what really means omnipotent in a world set for free will not for puppets.

John Griffith said...

Just wanted to give a shout out to Prof. Law for his very interesting approach to this debate. Of all "Craig's debates" I have watched your encounter ranks up there with the best. This is for two reasons: (1) You did not let yourself get sucked into a monotonous and pointless back and forth about the cosmological argument. Craig has entered debates with cosmologists and physicists who have point blank corrected his abuse and misunderstandings in physics and mathematics but Craig has never made any attempt to stop using his fallacious arguments in this area; and (2) You presented a very ingenious take on the problem of evil, which preemptively made all of Craig's standard responses worthless - bravo.

I thought you sounded nervous, at least initially, which actually worked in your favor. You struck me as genuinely thoughtful in your responses, and not a slick, polished debater like Craig whose main tactic is to argue by assertion: Objective morals exist, God is defined as God, ergo you cannot say there is an evil god, only an evil creator of the universe, and so on. Talk about question begging.

The evil god argument was inspired I thought. Craig is no dummy. He clearly had no comeback because he did not have sufficient time to formulate any cogent rebuttal. All of his standard responses such as the mystery of God's purpose response works equally well on the evil god account, so it gets him nowhere.

Well done. You demonstrated good argumentation can defeat showmanship.

You have another admirer.

Don Severs said...

>God has only logical options and if he allow suffering for a greater good where is the logic of your judgement?

God can achieve any 'greater good' via any means. If he chooses a way that involves suffering when he doesn't have to, he is evil. There is no contradiction in reducing evil.

>You don't know(or ignore intentionally) what really means omnipotent in a world set for free will not for puppets.

My claim is minimal: If God is all-powerful, he could reduce human suffering, at least a little bit, from what we observe. If he can and does not, he is evil.

When the police intervene during a murder, do they remove the free will of the assailant? No. They intervene in a particular case. God could intervene in every case of suffering without removing our free will. I protect my kids from harm, but they are not my puppets.

bin said...

"God can achieve any 'greater good' via any means."

No! only man achieve any 'greater good' via any means,because man CAN BE IMORAL. God can achieve any 'greater good' via ONLY right and moral means.



"If he chooses a way that involves suffering when he doesn't have to, he is evil."

Of course God could choose only ways that not involves suffering.But if He does that would be unjust and imoral.



" My claim is minimal: If God is all-powerful, he could reduce human suffering, at least a little bit, from what we observe. If he can and does not, he is evil."

:) 1.Can you prove this world is not best world possible with minimum of suffering ? With WHAT reference you compare this world to deduce that is MORE evil than would be if would existed a GOOD God?
2.In naturalist world don't exist evil so how come you have this concept of evil?

"When the police intervene during a murder, do they remove the free will of the assailant? No. They intervene in a particular case. God could intervene in every case of suffering without removing our free will."

:) You couldn't make such a statement if you wouldn't be omniscient.How can you know God don't interviene exactly in every case and with right measure ?

"I protect my kids from harm, but they are not my puppets."

You can't protect your kids from harm if they don't listen your advice and do exactly opossite.
If they do opposite and they don't suffer(mental or physical) that means moral law not exist and is just a joke and they are encouraged NOT to listen your good advices but to do what they want.If objective moral law really exist will NOT be the same result if kid listen or not . Violation of law mean suffering.

Don Severs said...

>Can you prove this world is not best world possible with minimum of suffering ?

This is Leibniz. In this view, God had no choice in creating the world. God still has free will because he could make different choices in other, non-actual worlds. But in this actual world, God is locked-in. A child dies every 5 seconds from hunger. This is the minimum amount of suffering possible. If God reduced suffering even a little bit, it would result in greater suffering somewhere else.

If we accept this, then we must give up intercessory prayer. God's hands are tied. There is nothing he can do other than let the world unfold in its already-perfect pre-established harmony.

This world is not set up for man. Man is grist for God's mill. This violates one of Kant's Categorical Imperatives: people are ends in themselves, never a means to an end. From this perspective, God is an abuser because he uses people for his purposes. We can say God isn't bound by the Categorical Imperatives, but that's just another way of saying he isn't moral in the normal human sense of the word.

>In naturalist world don't exist evil so how come you have this concept of evil?

I am arguing from Theism, not naturalism.

>You couldn't make such a statement if you wouldn't be omniscient.How can you know God don't interviene exactly in every case and with right measure ?

You can say this, but this view requires someone to believe that God created the universe but can't reduce suffering any further. As prosecutor, I am comfortable sending this to the jury.

>You can't protect your kids from harm if they don't listen your advice and do exactly opossite.

This only addresses suffering that results from human choices. Much suffering is natural and has nothing to do with rebellion. Birth defects, mental illness, etc.

But even in this case, we can ask if God was Good when he created such a universe. Schrodinger would say no.

>Violation of law mean suffering.

Even if this is true, the suffering we see is often unjust and disproportionate. An infant with a birth defect is not guilty of anything. The world God created is unjust.

bin said...

This is Leibniz.In this view, ....

Again: "Can you prove this world is not best world possible with minimum of suffering ? ( man is CO-CREATOR( with God )of this universe.ANY amount of suffering is achievement of MAN .A child dies every 5 seconds from hunger because of you ,me and other people .God give resource for all people but few choose to keep only for them (1 ferrari from garrage of wealthy [..]man give food for 10 villages from Africa /1year )



This world is not set up for man. Man is grist for God's mill. This violates one of Kant's Categorical Imperatives: people are ends in themselves, never a means to an end. From this perspective, God is an abuser because he uses people for his purposes.

You (a man) seems to know better than God(creator of man) what is the real purpose of man.Very interesting.



"God created the universe but can't reduce suffering any further."

you have not means to affirm that.



"Much suffering is natural and has nothing to do with rebellion. Birth defects, mental illness, etc."

ALL SUFFERING (including natural disasters and genetic deseases,etc.) has to do with rebellion of man .

" Schrodinger would say no."

What would say God is more relevant



the suffering we see is often unjust and disproportionate. An infant with a birth defect is not guilty of anything.

Again you play omniscience.Infant is also a co-creation God-man.Birth defects are effects of disobedience of his parents or ancestors .All are written in DNA.

The Atheist Missionary said...

To all those who are enjoying this thread, check out Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 2002). It's one of the best books I've ever read. She's a smarty.

Admin said...

Hi Stephen, I'd like to know if you would authorize to translate into Portuguese some of your texts, we believe they are very good and we would like to share your ideas with our community. I'd ask first to translate "The God of Eth". Is it possible? Thanks!
I'm Erickson Leon, "High School" teacher of Philosophy.

NAL said...

I just finished listening to the audio of the debate here.

I especially enjoyed the Q&A part where Stephen and Bill argued their points in temporal proximity. Stephen's arguments were most effective in that context.

The Evil God challenge is a powerful argument which Bill was ill-prepared to handle.

On style, Bill won. On substance, Stephen won.

Kiwi Dave said...

"ALL SUFFERING (including natural disasters and genetic deseases,etc.) has to do with rebellion of man."

Humans cause earthquakes and the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey?

bin said...

"Humans cause earthquakes and the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey?"

Yes humans are causing all events that ultimately inflict psychological suffering on human in this world(earthquake,epidemic,tsunami,etc.)

"Suffering" in animal kingdom are from totally different category because animals don't have soul so animal don't suffer psychologically.They are just biologic computers without reason.

Kiwi Dave said...

"Yes humans are causing all events that ultimately inflict psychological suffering on human in this world (earthquake, epidemic, tsunami,etc.)"

Physical suffering too.

And you know this how? Scientists are under the impression earthquakes are caused by moving tectonic plates floating on molten rock welling up from the inner earth.

Don Severs said...

>"Yes humans are causing all events that ultimately inflict psychological suffering on human in this world (earthquake, epidemic, tsunami,etc.)"

This hardly deserves comment, except to say that even if it were true, it would be unjust of God to set things up this way. It would be unjust for an infant to be crushed to death under a concrete beam in an earthquake because others have sinned.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Admin - fine by me to translate God of Eth and distribute in some classes. But it can't be sold for profit. Stuff from books is copyright to publisher and permission must be got. Email me direct to discuss!

bin said...

"Scientists are under the impression earthquakes are caused by moving tectonic plates"

moving tectonic plates are the last visible cause of earthquake ,like moving the car are the last cause of moving crankshaft,but last cause of crankshaft is pistons ,and the last cause of moving pistons are the controlled explosion inside cylinder liner and the last cause of explosion(ignition) is ......UNTIL you reach FIRST CAUSE OF CAR CALLED "MAN" WHO BUILT IT. So...car is moving not because crankshaft but because inteligence of man who manufactured car.



"It would be unjust for an infant...

:) Would be unjust for an naturalistic universe,where death is the end.God said there is no death,only body die.

you just mix your naturalistic views with a straw-god .If you want to judge God you have to consider all information given by God(including man is immortal,only body die)

Don Severs said...

>God said there is no death,only body die.

Even if this were true, a 4 year old doesn't have the sophistication to be comforted by the thought of an afterlife. It is cruel to let her die in agony, alone, of gangrene after 5 days under the rubble after an earthquake.

Future bliss does not cancel present pain, particularly when pain is not necessary. If God could give us an afterlife without as much pain as we observe in this life and does not, he is evil.

Don Severs said...

> your argument has emotive appeal

Emotion is relevant to this discussion, but only because it is part of the definition of 'loving'.

The definition of "loving" concerns how moral agents react to the subjective states of people. If a child is in pain or terror, a loving person alleviates their suffering if they can.

Highlighting suffering is relevant when we are evaluating whether a powerful, moral agent is loving.

Michael Ames Connor said...

The only response to the good god objections is to play the mystery card: we can't judge god, and so forth. SLaw's take is a good one: what is PLAUSIBLE? That is, the amount of suffering is plausibly incompatible with such a god.

The cosmological argument basically says, we assume a first causer. Our brains may be wired to expect it, and have a hard time with any process that doesn't conform to it.

I wonder what Craig would say to the following: You and I are humans, no? And we can agree that biology tells us that once there were no humans on the planet. So, Craig: explain how the first human was born. If he were honest, he would say that the phrase "first human" doesn't make sense. But neither does the phrase "before the universe began" or even "timeless" or "what caused the universe to exist" or even "why is there a universe"?

Our understanding of time is very limited. Which is why Craig says things like "something from nothing", and "before time." These are words that seem to make sense, but they don't. "Outside of time" is nonsense, dressed up.

Time is connected to entropy: a photon experiences no time (is a photon a god?). How many of us, when imagining the start of the universe, at least mentally imagine we are watching something OVER THERE: see, it's a small ball, and now it's growing. Our minds can imagine something that is un-real: that we can see the universe from outside the universe. But imagining it doesn't make it possible.

The moral stuff about kids suffering for god's purpose are scary, frankly. Because the implication is that we don't really care about suffering (stealing is wrong because it gratuitously harms someone) but that to cause suffering is rebellious against god's commandments.

If someone kills an innocent child, will a theist say it is wrong? Probably. But, let's imagine, years later we find a document, proving that god commanded the killer to kill. Would it still be wrong? What if we find that the document was forged? Would it still be wrong? What if the person genuinely believed it was real? Would it still be wrong?

And these folks say that without god, there's no "objective morality."

Thomas Larsen said...

Bin: "God said there is no death, only body die."

I'm just going to point out that the Christian hope is that of bodily resurrection. I'm convinced that there are plausible Christian rejoinders to the problem of evil, but let's not trivialise real issues like death and suffering.

Michael Ames Connor: "Our understanding of time is very limited. Which is why Craig says things like 'something from nothing,' and 'before time.' These are words that seem to make sense, but they don't. 'Outside of time' is nonsense, dressed up."

Craig doesn't talk about things happening "before time." Rather, he argues that God's act of creation of spacetime was simultaneous with time coming into existence. And there doesn't seem to be anything incoherent about something, or someone, transcending time; that is an unjustified assertion, and you need to back it up.

There's really no problem with "playing the mystery card," by the way, unless one is in a position where she can justifiably expect to discern reasons and explanations.

Don Severs said...

>There's really no problem with "playing the mystery card,"

If suffering is a mystery, then so is goodness. It's inconsistent to say we don't know where suffering comes from but we do know where good comes from.

Law points out that a good God with mysterious reasons for allowing suffering is indistinguishable from an evil God with mysterious reasons for allowing good.

But Craig (and Leibniz and Christianity) helps himself to too much in the God they propose. God's infinite attribute of being all-loving is at odds with the facts. They want to say that they have no choice in saying God is all-loving because it follows from the ontological argument's definition of God as maximally loving.

Craig's belief precedes his philosophy, so he is unable to drop the ontological argument. He should because it leads to contradictions. But Craig is not a real philosopher. He uses selected philosophical methods for motivated reasoning toward his preset conclusions.

Michael Ames Connor said...

"And there doesn't seem to be anything incoherent about something, or someone, transcending time; that is an unjustified assertion".

"Transcending time" is a phrase that has no meaning, much less "something" "transcending time". It is curious to see a completely incoherent thought asserted as coherent.

"There doesn't seem to be anything incoherent about a straight-line circle."

It is the essence of incoherence to speak of something existing (persisting, being) without space and time. It is our human fallibility that leads us to imagine something "before" or "outside" time.

From our perspective, we can imagine going backward in time, toward the beginning of the universe. But there are limits to this ability to imagine: the closer we get to the beginning, the more our sense of time no longer makes sense. Our language betrays us, in that we want to speak of a "moment" that the universe began. This is true, and normally there is a moment before any other moment. But "before" that moment, there was no entropy, nothing changing, and therefore no time.

Any interrogation of God's actions are quickly met with the mystery card. God's "act" of "creating" spacetime: WHERE did this act take place? HOW LONG did it take?

The inevitable answer: we can't understand, we can't know, etc.

This also is the likely answer provided by modern cosmology right now: we can't understand, it's very difficult to understand. The history of human thought is to assign theistic agents to things we don't understand, from volcanoes to earthquakes to human origins to mental illness. It seems improbable that the theists have gotten this one "right", especially when their answer involves untestable mystery cards, and we're a very young species just beginning to understand how the universe works.

Kiwi Dave said...

bin - thanks for the explanation about how humans make cars move. Really, the things you can learn on the intertubes.

But you were asked about how humans cause earthquakes and are thus responsible for squashing kids to death. I think you missed that bit.

And when you reply to that, you could also reply to DonS's point - why is a god's evil beyond our understanding, but not her goodness.

Thomas Larsen said...

Don: "If suffering is a mystery, then so is goodness. It's inconsistent to say we don't know where suffering comes from but we do know where good comes from. Law points out that a good God with mysterious reasons for allowing suffering is indistinguishable from an evil God with mysterious reasons for allowing good."—

Most Christian theists don't arrive at the idea of God's goodness because they hear arguments for God's existence that support His moral properties. (Maybe some do; I don't know.) Rather, they experience God personally, and consequently come to the conclusion that He is loving, powerful, good, and so on.

You seem to be implying that the Christian theist should accept two main points:

(1) Every single reason for accepting the existence of a good God can be made to support, without introducing additional complexity, the existence of an evil god.

(2) Good and evil are direct opposites.

And neither of these commends itself to me.

(1) There are better reasons for thinking that a good God exists than that an evil god exists. (For instance: the ontological argument, Jesus' resurrection, and personal experience.)

(2) Evil is the absence of good, not its opposite—think light/dark and hot/cold instead of matter/antimatter. (And, on that view, the whole concept of Anti-God becomes rather difficult to justify philosophically.)

Michael: "'Transcending time' is a phrase that has no meaning, much less 'something' 'transcending time'."—

Why?

Not very long ago, people were saying, "Light couldn't possibly be a wave and a particle, that's incoherent!" And then quantum mechanics came along. Moreover, if the kalam cosmological argument is sound, something must transcend space-time—whether or not it is a personal being.

Craig doesn't speak, as far as I know, of anything happening "before time," because the word "before" implies a temporal relation. It almost certainly doesn't make sense to say that there was no entropy or change "before" time.

Now, I share your concern for God-of-the-gaps arguments; they're deeply problematic from a theological point of view as well as a scientific one. I want to suggest that God interacts far more closely with His world than many people think. It's for that reason that I have a great deal of respect for the argument from personal experience to God. There are other arguments, obviously, but most people believe in God because they have experienced Him.

Thomas Larsen said...

By the way, Michael, it's interesting that you write, "This also is the likely answer provided by modern cosmology right now: we can't understand, it's very difficult to understand." So, the universe and its origin may have explanations that we might find difficult to understand, but they couldn't possibly be found in a transcendent God?

wombat said...

@Michael Ames Conner

"From our perspective, we can imagine going backward in time, toward the beginning of the universe."

I agree with your sentiment but the way it is expressed suggests a further language trap!

We probably cannot actually imagine this either. We can imagine what it was like at some point in the past but since imagination does not work backwards we can't really imagine getting there. In all the stories about time travelers, the flow of subjective experience of the traveler is always forwards. Similarly whenever we think of reversing time events are always still "before" and "after" in the same way. A bit like the way in which the events portrayed in a film have an order which is independent of the way in which the director chooses to present them.

bin said...

@Kiwi Dave
"But you were asked about how humans cause earthquakes and are thus responsible for squashing kids to death."

Very simple.Every time o man don't obey laws of Jesus => his thoughts enter in a region of low vibration.Everything in universe is about vibrations and respond to vibrations.Human thought are influencing the universe so Only Humas(inclusive you and me) are responsible for creating all sort of pain and suffering in this world.

"why is a god's evil beyond our understanding"

Not true.
Again:
1.Human soul is immortal( body will also become immortal after resurection)
2.In this phase of life in this factory of tridimensional universe body is like a work equipment or tool for protection of soul.Atheists believe that man is only this "work equipment"(body) and they concentrate on wrong direction.

Atheist problem is only emotional(they just don't like the ideea of suffering ,not a God who would permit suffering ) .

Logic of sufferance is explained very clear ,but emotions can't be convinced by logic.

Don Severs said...

Most Flying Spaghetti Monster theists don't arrive at the idea of FSM's goodness because they hear arguments for FSM's existence that support His moral properties. (Maybe some do; I don't know.) Rather, they experience FSM personally, and consequently come to the conclusion that He is loving, powerful, good, and so on.

bin said...

"Flying Spaghetti Monster"

:) When an atheist start to speak about FSM, I rest my case because I had already won.

Kiwi Dave said...

Folly, thou conquerest, and I must yield!
Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.
Schiller

John said...

Stephen Law writes:

"So, it appears Craig failed to explain why belief in his good god is significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief that there’s an evil god."

I'm wondering if Stephen missed Craig's argument about the resurrection. Jesus revealed God's character, and so forth. Also, the topic is "does God exist". Craig tried to explain that by God, we mean a being who is worthy of worship, and so would be all good. If the topic were "does a good creator exist" then Stephen might have made sense when he says he "demolished" Craig's arguments.

Michael Ames Connor said...

Thomas Larsen: "It almost certainly doesn't make sense to say that there was no entropy or change "before" time."

Time is the experience of entropy. Something that is static, without entropy, has no time -- the photon, for example. However space-time came about, the moment before it came about (lacking entropy) had no time.

So yes, there could not be entropy or change without space-time. At least if we are using those words to mean something.

The only response is to play the mystery card ("you just don't understand") or the primal causer card ("there must be something that caused it"). Since neither are testable or disprovable, they're not very interesting, are they? Nor do they explain anything.

Question: if we discover a secular mechanism through we the universe exists, comparable to our understanding of, say, the origin of species, what would this mean for theists. If physicists are right, that we're getting closer to a material understanding of the beginnings of the universe, how will that affect your thinking, assuming it's rational/provable/reasonable, etc.

Thomas Larsen said...

Michael Ames Connor: "Time is the experience of entropy. Something that is static, without entropy, has no time -- the photon, for example."

To say that time is the experience of entropy is to beg the question, unless I've misunderstood your point. How do we know that entropy increases as time increases? Maybe we're travelling back in time, and entropy is increasing all the while. I don't believe that, of course. But a change of entropy can only be measured over time.

"However space-time came about, the moment before it came about (lacking entropy) had no time. So yes, there could not be entropy or change without space-time. At least if we are using those words to mean something."—

I think we basically agree on this point, Michael—except that there is no moment "before" space-time came about. "Before" implies a temporal relationship, and it makes no sense to talk about a temporal relationship outside of time.

"Question: if we discover a secular mechanism through we the universe exists, comparable to our understanding of, say, the origin of species, what would this mean for theists. If physicists are right, that we're getting closer to a material understanding of the beginnings of the universe, how will that affect your thinking, assuming it's rational/provable/reasonable, etc."

By "secular mechanism," I assume you mean a mechanism that is entirely explicable on scientific, naturalistic grounds. Well, how should this affect theism? Most Christian theists, at any rate, don't believe that God exists because of the cosmological argument; rather, they find that God makes sense of the way the world is and their own experiences of His work in their lives. (If you haven't already, read Alvin Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief.) So, if a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe were found and confirmed—somehow—I think most theists, including myself, would just shrug their shoulders and stop relying on natural theology so much.

But I'm not convinced that such a naturalistic explanation could even exist. If we're talking here about the origin of science and nature itself, how could there be a scientific or naturalistic explanation? Who, or what, made the laws (natural or otherwise) that led to the universe's origin, and in such a way that they could give rise to the universe as we know it?

I'm curious—are you an agnostic, or an atheist, or do you take some other position on God?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Stephen -- I just wrote a formal summary and assessment of your debate here, but suffice it to say I think you won the debate.

Jeffery Jay Lowder

tolkein said...

I'm surprised that Craig was unprepared for your evil God hypothesis, as he generally is very well prepared. There was a long post on the incoherence of the evil God hypothesis for classical theism at Ed Feser's blog in October 2010. In fact your argument was the prompt for the post. So if you argue for the existence of God, then, for a classical theist, you've conceded the argument. For God as conceived by Aquinas or the Catholic Church must by definition be good. Now, you might well argue that classical theism is tosh, but the fact is that an evil God is a nonsense by definition for a classical theist - if you believe in God he will be good. Maybe that's why Craig was surprised. He thought you agreed with him.

tolkein said...

I'm surprised that Craig was unprepared for your evil God hypothesis, as he generally is very well prepared. There was a long post on the incoherence of the evil God hypothesis for classical theism at Ed Feser's blog in October 2010. In fact your argument was the prompt for the post. So if you argue for the existence of God, then, for a classical theist, you've conceded the argument. For God as conceived by Aquinas or the Catholic Church must by definition be good. Now, you might well argue that classical theism is tosh, but the fact is that an evil God is a nonsense by definition for a classical theist - if you believe in God he will be good. Maybe that's why Craig was surprised. He thought you agreed with him.

Paul Wright said...

I'm not quite sure why so many Christian commenters here are leaning on the Resurrection as an argument for God's goodness. Craig has already said that you cannot draw conclusions about God's moral character from events in the world, and I understand that Christians think that the Resurrection was an event in the world. I'm sure Evil God had his reasons for resurrecting Jesus, even if we can't understand what they are.

Stephen Law said...

That is a very good point, Paul. Craig undermined his own resurrection argument!

John said...

Paul,

Craig meant that you cannot draw God's moral character by looking at the goodness or evilness in the world. But interestingly, Stephen Law thinks you can. He never quite explained how it could be done, though.

If you cannot ascertain that God is good by all the goodness in the world --which Craig pointed out-- then how can you ascertain that God is evil by all the evil in the world? And given those 2, how can anyone ascertain that therefore good God doesn't exist because of all the evil in the world?

If Stephen agrees that we cannot know God is good by all the good in the world, then his whole evil-God argument fails. But Craig already said that we don't ascertain God is good by looking at all the good in the world, so, really, the evil-God argument didn't amount to much.

Don Severs said...

>If you cannot ascertain that God is good by all the goodness in the world --which Craig pointed out-- then how can you ascertain that God is evil by all the evil in the world?

Excellent point, John, at least from the standpoint of ultimate moral ontology.

But what could it mean for God to be Good without concern for humans? And what could it mean to say he is concerned for humans but doesnt act to alleviate their suffering if he could?

Sam Harris would say that the only conceivable basis for morality is the well-being of sentient creatures. If you don't act to maximize their well-being when you could, you aren't good. You could be amoral of evil, but not maximally Good.

Don Severs said...

I said 'moral ontology'. I think I'd rather say 'moral epistemology' here.

John said...

>> But what could it mean for God to be Good without concern for humans? And what could it mean to say he is concerned for humans but doesnt act to alleviate their suffering if he could?

Dan, God may be concerned for humans, but as Craig pointed out, He may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering. On Christianity, God's purpose isn't to have people in a state of perpetual happiness.

If God were to alleviate all suffering, at what point does it start to become ridiculous? Wouldn't that also mean God would have to give us everything we want?

Paul Wright said...

John wrote: Craig meant that you cannot draw God's moral character by looking at the goodness or evilness in the world. But interestingly, Stephen Law thinks you can.

So does Craig, when he makes an argument that (Good) God exists on the basis of the resurrection. The same is true of other commenters on this page. That's what Stephen Law means when he says Craig has undermined his own resurrection argument.

Assuming that the resurrection happened, you might think it unlikely that Evil God was involved, but Craig says you're not in a position to know that, just as Evil God believers are not in a position to know that, say, the Lisbon Earthquake supports their position.

John said...

So does Craig, when he makes an argument that (Good) God exists on the basis of the resurrection. The same is true of other commenters on this page. That's what Stephen Law means when he says Craig has undermined his own resurrection argument.

--Seriously seems like sophistry on your part. The resurrection, being an event that took place in the world, makes you conclude that it should be among the good and bad things in the world from which an inference for God's Moral character can be based? Just because it's an event that took place in the world? Really?

"Assuming that the resurrection happened, you might think it unlikely that Evil God was involved, but Craig says you're not in a position to know that, just as Evil God believers are not in a position to know that, say, the Lisbon Earthquake supports their position."

-- If the resurrection happened, then that slightly validates Jesus's claims about the character of God which he was revealing.

Evil-god believers are not in the position to say that the Lisbon earthquake supports their position, because the Lisbon earthquake may have been the work of a good God who had morally sufficient reasons for allowing it to happen.

Don Severs said...

>He may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering.

Omnipotence (the ability to do any possible thing) rules this out. There is no contradiction in saying God could reduce the suffering we observe at least a little bit.

There can be no morally sufficient reason for a maximally good god to allow more suffering than is necessary to achieve his ends. It is deeply implausible that every last nerve impulse of suffering that has occurred is the minimum an all-powerful God needed to accomplish his ends.

To go this route, Craig would have to say this is the best of all possible worlds. This severely limits God's power and eliminates intercessory prayer. To say that God could create the universe, read our thoughts, etc, but can't let one more drop of rain fall in a crushed kid's mouth strains belief. (Religion is more than up to that task, but philosophy is not.)

>If God were to alleviate all suffering, at what point does it start to become ridiculous?

Good question, one that applies to Heaven as well. But it's not at issue. Our present claim is minimal:

Could God reduce the suffering in the world even a little bit? If he can and does not, he is not maximally good.

Finally, even if God is locked in and can not reduce suffering further. This gets him off that hook, but then we can ask: Was it Good to create such a universe?

A loving God creating the universe may well see what he was about to do and its implications and decide not to create life at all, out of compassion.

My job is easy: I only have to raise a reasonable doubt about one instance of suffering that God could have reduced and didn't. Here's one:

http://www.bakersfield.com/news/local/x339729128/Bakersfield-dad-accused-of-biting-out-sons-eye

(Don't try free will. To let the strong prey on the weak is a bad idea. You can't be all-loving and allow it.)

Craig, on the other hand, has to show that every instance of suffering that has ever occurred anywhere was the absolute minimum required for God's purposes. Even if he could show that, we could then still ask whether it was loving for God to pursue those purposes.

Even if we granted all this (which we don't), Craig would only show that his God is not impossible. Yahweh would then stand on the starting line with flying pigs and orbiting teapots, awaiting evidence.

Possible is a long way from plausible.

Giford said...

Nice to see this blog finally getting some of the trafic it deserves. My thoughts:

Stephen hamstrung himself by not engaging with the cosmological argument (especially the rather weak version Bill used). Having failed to refute the idea of a 'personal' cause for the universe, it's hard to say Law won.

That said, in my eyes Craig's case failed the more he relied on that point, since it seemed to me there were obvious flaws in it (surprised not to hear any questions on the subject at the end).

Craig either failed to understand the purpose of the Evil God challenge, or he ducked the issues. The extent of this failure might have been clearer to the audience had Law made his gameplan clearer at the outset (i.e. to disprove Craig's God, not *any* God).

I felt Law won on the Resurrection, but again that may be because I think the sources for the extraordinary claim are pretty weak, not because I think all supernatural claims should be dismissed out of hand as Law seemed to argue.

So to my mind, Law had clearly the stronger case, but on two major points this relied on my pre-existing knowledge/opinion, not that presented in the debate. It wouldn't surprise me if Craig's fans claim he won the debate - but I would be surprised if they can explain why without making claims that can be easily refuted.

Gif

John said...

"Omnipotence (the ability to do any possible thing) rules this out."

The inability to do that which is logically contradictory does nothing to undermine omnipotence.

>>"There can be no morally sufficient reason for a maximally good god to allow more suffering than is necessary to achieve his ends."

-- Yes, that's why the burden is on you to show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering, given that suffering is needed for people to become holy and moral.


>>It is deeply implausible that every last nerve impulse of suffering that has occurred is the minimum an all-powerful God needed to accomplish his ends.

-- Show how it is implausible.

>>"To go this route, Craig would have to say this is the best of all possible worlds."

-- He does in fact argue that. Check his site. Maybe you could point out why his argument for that is flawed.


>>"Could God reduce the suffering in the world even a little bit? If he can and does not, he is not maximally good."

-- If this is the best possible world --which Craig argues-- then presumably, He already does "reduce the suffering in the world" as much as is possible while still meeting His ends.

>>"Was it Good to create such a universe?

-- We are not in the position to be able to answer that. The burden will have to be on you to show that it wasn't "good to create such a universe".

>>"My job is easy: I only have to raise a reasonable doubt about one instance of suffering that God could have reduced and didn't."

-- How would you know whether the dad, in another possible world, not only bit his son's eye out, but also fed him to an alligator? Facetious, yes, but I'm saying that we couldn't possibly know whether God reduced "suffering" in this instance or not.

>>"(Don't try free will. To let the strong prey on the weak is a bad idea. You can't be all-loving and allow it.)"

-- In other words: "free-will will crush my case, so let's not go there."

>>"Yahweh would then stand on the starting line with flying pigs and orbiting teapots, awaiting evidence."

-- Because we all know orbiting teapots and flying pigs have just as much existential relevance as God.

In any case, the point I was making was this:

Craig did not argue that God was good because of all the goodness in the world. So, pointing to all the evil in the world and saying that disproves a good God in no way undermines the case he makes.

Stephen can only cast doubt on the existence of a good God by showing that there cannot be morally sufficient reasons for some evil in the world --something Craig was inviting him to do. To my knowledge, he wasn't able to do this. He just asserted what he *feels*. That just doesn't cut it.

Don Severs said...

>Yes, that's why the burden is on you to show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering, given that suffering is needed for people to become holy and moral.

There is no contradiction in saying that an all-powerful God could set things up so that suffering is not needed for people to become holy and moral.

All attempts to exonerate God rely on him having no choice in the matter. That doesn't square with omnipotence.

Don Severs said...

This line of thinking amounts to a fine-tuning argument:

"God is all-powerful, but he is weak or constrained in exactly the right way to exonerate him from any blame in any suffering we happen to see."

Don Severs said...

>the burden is on you to show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering

Even if this were true, how could we sensibly commit to a God without knowing what his reasons were? Saying his reasons are inscrutable is to say we don't know if he has reasons. We can't say 'suffering is a mystery, but we know just enough to know that there's a good reason for it'. If we don't know what the reasons are, we don't know if there are any.

Further, there can be no good reason for allowing more suffering than is necessary. An omnipotent God could accomplish his ends with less suffering than we see, OR he could choose different purposes that didn't require as much suffering OR he is locked in, doing the best he can. This last case is not Craig's god. It is a deist god.

John said...

@Don

>>"There is no contradiction in saying that an all-powerful God could set things up so that suffering is not needed for people to become holy and moral."

-- Ostensibly, it is needed for people to become holy and moral. Morality is dependent on free-will. A tree can't be generous for providing its fruit because it doesn't have a choice in the matter. Moral acts like Generosity is thus dependent on free-will. Being generous to someone would necessarily mean that someone is in need. When someone is in need, then ostensibly that someone is in some form of suffering.

I think the burden is on you to show that it's possible for people to be holy and moral in a world of absolute bliss, where they could have everything they want --because not having something you want would make you suffer in a way.

John said...

>>"Even if this were true, how could we sensibly commit to a God without knowing what his reasons were? Saying his reasons are inscrutable is to say we don't know if he has reasons."

-- That's why Craig includes in his case the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did in fact resurrect, then this would validate Jesus's life, his teachings, his revelation of God's character, and so forth.

John said...

@Don

>>"Further, there can be no good reason for allowing more suffering than is necessary. An omnipotent God could accomplish his ends with less suffering than we see, OR he could choose different purposes that didn't require as much suffering OR he is locked in, doing the best he can. This last case is not Craig's god. It is a deist god."

-- If you looked at suffering from the context of eternity, as God would probably see it, then how can you possibly say you know for a fact that there is more suffering than is necessary?

My point is that we cannot know this. So if Stephens evil-God argument is going to work, than he must show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering. You're really just telling me what you feel while scarcely backing it up with anything of substance.

Don Severs said...

>the burden is on you to show that it's possible for people to be holy and moral in a world of absolute bliss, where they could have everything they want

This sounds like the Christian Heaven. Can people be holy and moral in Heaven?

But I don't have that burden. My claim is minimal: that it strains belief to say that an all-powerful God could not accomplish his ends with a little less suffering than we observe. (How we answer this question seems to hinge on whether we believe in God for other reasons.)


>how can you possibly say you know for a fact that there is more suffering than is necessary? My point is that we cannot know this.

Ok, but here you are admitting you 'don't know' that there is not more suffering than is necessary. You are merely giving God the benefit of the doubt. I think that's unreasonable given his great powers and the centuries of horror humanity has experienced. He has had countless opportunities to reduce suffering, and you want us to believe that he is already doing everything he can.

It is illegal in my state to leave my kids with God, but I can leave them with the 16 year old girl across the street. If he isn't even a good babysitter, then he isn't omnipotent. Thus, Craig's god doesn't exist.

If you don't know the reasons for suffering, then you can not say God is good. At most, you can suspend judgment and hope that a good reason will eventually be found. I see no good reason to think it will. To say that 'there must be a reason because earlier we defined God as maximally good' is question-begging.

Don Severs said...

>Morality is dependent on free-will.

I don't grant this, but that's another long discussion.

Besides, God didn't have to create a universe where humans had to work to be moral. So many theologies make God so small. Use your imaginations! There is no contradiction in the scenario where God just created Heaven. Full stop.

Many of these arguments rely on saying God had no choice in the matter. "It's not God's fault! He's doing the best he can given the immense constraints on him! Give him a break! Who are you go judge God?"

We don't have to be God to judge if someone is loving. We do it all the time at home and in our personal lives.

Any defense of God must answer this question: What do we tell a suffering Muslim child dying of diarrhea? That God is all-powerful and could help him but has a good reason not to but we don't know what it is? He could rightly ask, "How do you know that?"

Some people can worship that God, but I can't. I think that concept of God is incoherent and impossible. But even if I were wrong and Craig's God was real, I could not follow him. I agree with Sam Harris that Classical Theism is incredibly callous, even if it could be logically defended.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I've only skimmed this thread, so apologies if my point has been made before, but:

"Most people will happily conclude there’s no evil god purely on the basis of the evidential problem of good (whether or not there are other reasons to reject the evil god hypothesis). So why isn’t the problem of evil similarly fatal to belief in a good god?"

Theodicies are intended to show that the existence of evil isn't incompatible with the existence of a good god, *not* that the existence of good necessitates the existence of a benevolent deity. It's not meant to be fatal to the idea of an evil god existing; any mirror argument would not, therefore, be fatal to the idea of a good god existing.

John said...

>>"But I don't have that burden. My claim is minimal: that it strains belief to say that an all-powerful God could not accomplish his ends with a little less suffering than we observe."

-- With every reduction in suffering, you'll still say a little less can still be observed, until it gets really ridiculous; at some point, you'd be saying God can't possibly exist because you can't have X, despite your having everything else.

If God removed all the suffering in the world, atheists would still be unbelievers on account of their inability to get some conceivable thing they want.

Ofcourse I'm admitting that "I don't know", since I'm seeing things from my limited perspective; just like a child not knowing why he ought to get that vaccine shot which to him is the worst pain he'll ever experience.

>>"If you don't know the reasons for suffering, then you can not say God is good. At most, you can suspend judgment and hope that a good reason will eventually be found. I see no good reason to think it will."

-- I don't say God is good by giving reasons for suffering. I can't know God's moral character by looking at the good or evil in the world. I'm not making that argument. Stephen is. Not me.

If we can't say God is good because we can't think of morally sufficient reasons for every instance of suffering, then we likewise can't say God is evil because we cannot know if every instance of suffering has a reason. You're right that we must suspend judgement, because we cannot possibly tell by looking at the good or evil in the world --wasn't that Craig's point?!

You then say you have no reason to think there will be a morally sufficient justification in the end, but I've yet to hear an argument why you think there *can* be no morally sufficient justification in the end.

So, I guess we both agree that you cannot ascertain God's moral character by looking at the good and evil in the world, yet you keep asserting that a good God cannot exist on account of the evil in the world. Aren't you being a bit too generous on yourself?

>>"To say that 'there must be a reason because earlier we defined God as maximally good' is question-begging."

-- I never said that.

Don Severs said...

We need to distinguish between causal reasons and morally sufficient reasons. If suffering is already at a minimum, that is because God is causally constrained. In that case, he needs no moral reason.

If God is not constrained causally and could still reduce suffering and does not, he is not maximally loving.

This is the entire claim.


>just like a child not knowing why he ought to get that vaccine shot which to him is the worst pain he'll ever experience.

False analogy. Parents aren't omnipotent. I think all the craziness in this argument comes from the claim of omnipotence.

> I've yet to hear an argument why you think there *can* be no morally sufficient justification in the end.

There can be causal reasons God could not do any better. But, absent a causal constraint, there can be no morally sufficient reason for not doing better, if he could and does not. In this case, by definition, he would not be maximally loving, because a more loving option was available and he did not take it.

The only way out for Craig is for God to be locked in, a la Leibniz's God. But this isn't Craig's God! Craig's God can make choices.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to exonerate Craig's God of human suffering. If he can make choices, he could do better than what we observe. If he can't make choices, he is little more than a deist, passive god.

Michael Connor said...

Thomas Larson: "But I'm not convinced that such a naturalistic explanation could even exist. If we're talking here about the origin of science and nature itself, how could there be a scientific or naturalistic explanation? Who, or what, made the laws (natural or otherwise) that led to the universe's origin, and in such a way that they could give rise to the universe as we know it?"

By asking "who or what made the laws" you've included a conclusion in the question that we're trying to answer. Sean Carroll refers to the "The Eternally Existing, Self-Reproducing, Frequently Puzzling Inflationary Universe". IF this is the universe we inhabit, it makes no sense to ask "who are what made" something that exists eternally. "String theory predicts that the laws of physics can take on an enormous variety of forms," which means all the fine-tuning arguments must be tossed as parochialism: in the cousin universe where no planets form and no life evolves, I guess we don't spend much time talking about how the intelligent the designer is.

Theists have no problem accepting an invisible BEING exists eternally, and that being can cause dead humans to come back to life to live eternally, but the notion that the universe exists eternally is somehow hard to grasp. And Tomas Larson says if physists do demonstrate a naturalistic origin to the universe, then theists will simply stop using cosmology to support their beliefs. So it appears we're dealing with a claim that supposedly draws evidence from the universe to support it, but is undamaged when evidence arises to refute it.

The relationship between time and entropy is complicated, and Sean Carrol is a good place to explore. Suffice it to say that we perceive time passing as a function of our consciousness, but this is only thinly related to the cosmological notion of time, which is intimately connected (if not an expression of) general increase in entropy. Which is why a photon experiences no time. Chew on that for a bit to see what I mean. But better, read Carroll. :)

And yes, atheist -- not a believer in any of the thousands of gods humans have dreamed up.

Thomas Larsen said...

Welcome to critical realism, Michael!

Paul Wright said...

John wrote: Seriously seems like sophistry on your part. The resurrection, being an event that took place in the world, makes you conclude that it should be among the good and bad things in the world from which an inference for God's Moral character can be based? Just because it's an event that took place in the world? Really?

1. We cannot draw conclusions about God's moral character from events in the world.
2. The resurrection, if it occurred, was an event in the world.
C. Therefore, we cannot draw conclusions about God's moral character from the resurrection (if it occurred).

Can you tell me which premise you're disagreeing with, and why? I'm not interested in vague stuff like "that seems like sophistry". Is sceptical theism wrong, or did the resurrection occur "spiritually" (i.e. not really)?

If the resurrection happened, then that slightly validates Jesus's claims about the character of God which he was revealing.

Evil-god believers are not in the position to say that the Lisbon earthquake supports their position, because the Lisbon earthquake may have been the work of a good God who had morally sufficient reasons for allowing it to happen.


Similarly, the resurrection may have been the work of an Evil God who had an evilly sufficient reason for arranging it. You consider that unlikely, but according to Craig, you're in no position to make such probability judgements. If, on the other hand, you feel you are able to make such judgements, you're abandoning sceptical theism at least in some cases. What distinguishes those cases where it's acceptable to abandon it from those where it isn't?

Miramax said...

I am still a bit uncertain whether I actually realized the full force of the "evil god challenge", but the discussion in this coment section suggests to me that at least I am not alone :)

I think two claims need to be accepted in order to rationally reject the evil god:

(1) We need to be able to make moral judgments independent of the will or actions of a god at least in principle, for otherwise we would not be able to identify an action of evil god as evil.

(2) We need to be able to trust our moral intuitions at least to a certain extent.

From the first claim it follows that Craig's moral argument has to be rejected, while the second claim lends force to the evidential argument of evil.

If these two claims really follow then the evil god challenge is powerful indeed.

JOJO JACOB said...

Is there something called "unintelligent" design?

John said...

@ Paul

So if God appeared to everyone and told them He existed and was all-good, by your logic, we still can't accept that as evidence because:

1. We cannot draw conclusions about God's moral character from events in the world.
2. [His appearance to everyone in the world], if it occurred, was an event in the world.
C. Therefore, we cannot draw conclusions about God's moral character from the resurrection (if it occurred).


Yeah. Good luck with that.

John said...

@Don,

Well, you're really just saying that you feel the evil in the world renders a good God impossible while scarcely giving good reasons for why you feel that. So we're pretty much talking in circles now.

teetee said...

@John

"I'm wondering if Stephen missed Craig's argument about the resurrection. Jesus revealed God's character, and so forth. Also, the topic is "does God exist". Craig tried to explain that by God, we mean a being who is worthy of worship, and so would be all good. If the topic were "does a good creator exist" then Stephen might have made sense when he says he "demolished" Craig's arguments."

Jesus isn't relevant to the argument.

Law's argument does address "does God exist." Please read the first blog post of his on the subject.

Why would an evil god not be worthy of worship? Not that this is really relevant. The question is whether God exists or not, not if the god is worthy of worship. Whether the god is worthy of worship or not comes after establishing whether it exists or not.

You really should pay attention.

Paul Wright said...

John wrote: Yeah. Good luck with that.

John: you don't appear to be interested in a dialogue here.

As a reminder, in my previous comment I asked which premise you disagreed with. You haven't answered that. I also asked what distinguishes those cases where it's acceptable to abandon sceptical theism from those where it isn't. You haven't answered that either.

To answer your question, the argument I gave isn't something I believe myself, it is a demonstration that Craig's sceptical theism is absurd, because Craig's sceptical theism leads to the conclusion that Christians cannot draw any conclusions about God's moral character from the resurrection, or indeed, from God appearing to everyone and telling them that God is good. You are arguing with Craig, not me. As it happens, I think that God appearing to everyone would be strong evidence that he existed (although we'd have to take his word for it about his moral character, I suppose), and that gratuitous suffering is strong evidence that God either does not exist or is indifferent to our sufferings.

John said...

>>"As a reminder, in my previous comment I asked which premise you disagreed with."

-- I disagree with your whole interpretation of what Craig said. I said Craig meant that we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by simply looking at the good and evil in the world. If you seriously believed that he was putting himself into a logical bind by saying this because it would obviate all kinds of evidence --like in our hypothetical scenario where God appeared to everyone-- on account of it being an *event* that happened in the world for which some metric of goodness or evilness can be applied, then you're just being too generous to yourself in your interpretation.


>>"To answer your question, the argument I gave isn't something I believe myself, it is a demonstration that Craig's sceptical theism is absurd"

--Or maybe your interpretation of what he said is absurd.

>>"and that gratuitous suffering is strong evidence that God either does not exist or is indifferent to our sufferings."

-- Or he may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing it. You can really only say that you *feel* there can't be morally sufficient reasons. You haven't given any reason as to why there can't be.

John said...

@ teetee

>>"Jesus isn't relevant to the argument."

--Why not? Craig included the resurrection in his case. If Jesus did in fact resurrect, then that validates what he revealed about himself and the character of God.

>>"Law's argument does address "does God exist." Please read the first blog post of his on the subject."

-- Nobody is arguing that we can get God's moral character by looking at the good in the world. Craig didn't argue this, so the evil-god argument holds no weight. You should really pay attention.

>>"Why would an evil god not be worthy of worship? Not that this is really relevant. The question is whether God exists or not, not if the god is worthy of worship. Whether the god is worthy of worship or not comes after establishing whether it exists or not."

-- If you believe a God who's evil can be worthy of worship, then that's up to you. If the question is whether God exists or not, and not whether he was good or evil, then you're admitting Stephen lost, since he scarcely addressed Craig's Kalam argument.

>>You really should pay attention.

--Riight.

Stephen Law said...

BTW just posted this on Randal Rauser's blog. It's relevant to John's extraordinarily persistent misunderstanding of my argument.

"When faced with the evidential problems of good and evil, Craig just got super-skeptical. What we see around us gives us not the *slightest* reason to suppose there’s no all-powerful, all-evil God. Yeh, right!

Yet, before they see the implications, Christians almost invariably do agree that evil god is a non-starter on the basis of what they observe around them (I should have done a straw poll on the night, early on).

Only when it dawns on them what the implications of this are do they suddenly get extraordinarily sceptical. That degree of highly-implausible skepticism requires a really good supporting argument. You can’t just assert it’s true. And we didn’t get one on the night.

...

But as Spencer notes, even if this highly implausible, radical skepticism *were* justified, it still wouldn’t help Craig make any headway at all so far as explaining why belief in an evil god is absurd, but a good god not."

Thomas said...

John, I would suggest to you that even if the resurrection happened, there are far more problems which prevent anyone from ascribing too much significance to it.

If the resurrection ‘validates’ Jesus’ message, what message is that? Is it that he is god? Or that he is the messiah? That he died for our sins, or that he was ushering in a new age? Scholars say Jesus never believed to be god, and never claimed to be god. That would seem to eliminate that from the ‘message’ of the resurrection, wouldn’t it?

Furthermore, Jesus never met any of the specified criteria to be the messiah, according to the Hebrew Bible, thus disqualifying him entirely. And if Jesus did, of course claim to be god, that would conflict with Deut 13:2, making him a ‘false prophet’ whose miracles are nothing but tests for the people, not ‘validation’ of his claims.

Today, Christian sects see a different message in the resurrection, and scholars don’t think Jesus ever actually made the central claims Christians attribute to him (and if he did claim to be god, that would make his miracles tests designed to check Israel’s obedience to their god. Coupled with his failure to usher in the biblically-mandated messianic era (after all, there was a reason his disciples expected the messiah’s worldly reign- the OT says it), one can assume, even if the resurrection happened, one cannot claim it validates Christianity.

On a sidenote, I seems clear that the evidence for the Mormon golden plates is much better anyway, so even if I assumed all those assumptions above, it would probably still lead me to Mormonism, since their latter-day miracles are well-attested, and validates Joseph Smith’s message.

Paul Wright said...

I said Craig meant that we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by simply looking at the good and evil in the world. If you seriously believed that he was putting himself into a logical bind by saying this because it would obviate all kinds of evidence --like in our hypothetical scenario where God appeared to everyone-- on account of it being an *event* that happened in the world for which some metric of goodness or evilness can be applied, then you're just being too generous to yourself in your interpretation.

In what way am I being "too generous"? So far, you have not stated an alternative interpretation. If, as you say, "we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by simply looking at the good and evil in the world", why can we do so by looking at the resurrection? Was that not some good in the world?

Or he may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing it. You can really only say that you *feel* there can't be morally sufficient reasons. You haven't given any reason as to why there can't be.

Similarly, Evil God may have evilly sufficient reasons for arranging the resurrection. You can really only say that you feel there can't be evilly sufficient reasons, you haven't given any reason as to why there can't be. Scepticism like Craig's cuts both ways.

Don Severs said...

>you're really just saying that you feel the evil in the world renders a good God impossible while scarcely giving good reasons for why you feel that.

I gave my reasons here. They are purely logical ones:

There can be 'causal' reasons God could not [reduce suffering]. But, absent a causal constraint, there can be no morally sufficient reason for not doing better, if he could and does not. In this case, by definition, he would not be maximally loving, because a more loving option was available and he did not take it.

Even if it were true that some suffering were necessary for one of his purposes, He could drop that purpose. Using humans as a means to an end is immoral when humans do it.

Thus, there can be no 'moral' reason for God not reducing suffering. There can be causal-constraint reasons, but not a moral one.

John said...

@Paul

>>"In what way am I being "too generous"? So far, you have not stated an alternative interpretation. If, as you say, "we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by simply looking at the good and evil in the world", why can we do so by looking at the resurrection? Was that not some good in the world?"

-- I think it's clear that some principle of charity is being violated here. Certainly, Craig has argued that we can know God's character by having a relationship with him. Obviously, nobody can prove that such things objectively occurs. I don't think Craig meant that even God's revelation, being an event that happens in the world, falls under the umbrella of 'good and bad events' from which the moral character of God cannot be ascertained.

>>"Similarly, Evil God may have evilly sufficient reasons for arranging the resurrection. You can really only say that you feel there can't be evilly sufficient reasons, you haven't given any reason as to why there can't be. Scepticism like Craig's cuts both ways."

-- Evil god may have evily sufficient reasons for arranging the resurrection? Isn't that a bit ad hoc? If we didn't know the moral character of God, and lo and behold a resurrection occurs, you think it's just as reasonable to assume an evil god exists than a god that Jesus himself revealed?

John said...

@Don

>>"There can be 'causal' reasons God could not [reduce suffering]. But, absent a causal constraint, there can be no morally sufficient reason for not doing better, if he could and does not. In this case, by definition, he would not be maximally loving, because a more loving option was available and he did not take it."

-- If this were the best actualizable world, given God's particular plan, then that may be the constraint. (Ofcourse, I think 'free-will' would have to be put in the mix)

And, it may not be accurate to say God is maximally loving, because, to my mind, that would mean he couldn't be all-just.

The problem I see with you asserting that "a more loving option is available" is that, in the context of eternity, how can you say that the end reward cannot possibly offset some finite amount of suffering?

Would it have been more loving to remove someone's tummy-ache knowing full well that someone would be winning the lottery the very next day? Would God have been more loving to the other lottery winner who didn't previously have a tummy-ache?

>>"Even if it were true that some suffering were necessary for one of his purposes, He could drop that purpose. Using humans as a means to an end is immoral when humans do it."

-- Unless, ofcourse, His purpose had more existential import than that of any finite amount of suffering.

And, it's irrelevant to our discussion, but why is using humans as a means to an end immoral from a naturalist's perspective? Isn't that only something you can justify on theism?

Paul Wright said...

I think it's clear that some principle of charity is being violated here.

Clear to you, perhaps. What principle is being violated?

Certainly, Craig has argued that we can know God's character by having a relationship with him.

I'm not sure what that has to do with the argument from the resurrection. Stephen Law has addressed "I just know!" arguments.

I don't think Craig meant that even God's revelation, being an event that happens in the world, falls under the umbrella of 'good and bad events' from which the moral character of God cannot be ascertained.

Well, presumably he doesn't, but he (and you) haven't provided a well motivated distinction between events from which the moral character of God can be ascertained, and those from which it cannot. So far as I can tell, events which support your position are in, and those which don't are out. This is what philosophers refer to as "special pleading".

Evil god may have evily sufficient reasons for arranging the resurrection? Isn't that a bit ad hoc? If we didn't know the moral character of God, and lo and behold a resurrection occurs, you think it's just as reasonable to assume an evil god exists than a god that Jesus himself revealed?

Of course it's ad hoc, just as Christian theodicies are. I mean, if we didn't know the moral character of God and an earthquake and tidal wave obliterated an entire city of people while they were in church, you assume it's just as reasonable to assume a good God exists than one who enjoys watching us suffer?

For some reason, you seem to find Christian theodicies reasonable and Evil God anti-theodicies unreasonable, despite the fact that they both involve ridiculous retreats to the possible. This is inconsistent, which is the point of Law's argument. He's not arguing that Evil God exists, merely that the reasons for thinking he does are just as good as the Christian's reasons for thinking their God exists (i.e. very bad).

Don Severs said...

>how can you say that the end reward cannot possibly offset some finite amount of suffering?

IF God could provide the same future reward with less suffering in the present, then he is not maximally loving.

I always shake my head at this objection, though. In my community, no one would condone neglect or torture if it was followed by a luxury cruise. This is sadism.

>Would it have been more loving to remove someone's tummy-ache knowing full well that someone would be winning the lottery the very next day? Would God have been more loving to the other lottery winner who didn't previously have a tummy-ache?

Yes and yes.

>Isn't that only something you can justify on theism?

I am arguing on theism.

John said...

>>"Clear to you, perhaps. What principle is being violated?"

-- The part where you have to consider your opponents best and strongest interpretation. Clearly, mundane 'good and bad' events in the world are different from those where the Creator of the universe decides to inject himself in and reveal something.

>>"Well, presumably he doesn't, but he (and you) haven't provided a well motivated distinction between events from which the moral character of God can be ascertained, and those from which it cannot. So far as I can tell, events which support your position are in, and those which don't are out. This is what philosophers refer to as "special pleading"."

-- Clearly, events where God reveals something about himself will be different from events where he doesn't. We are, after all, talking about HIS moral character.

>>"I mean, if we didn't know the moral character of God and an earthquake and tidal wave obliterated an entire city of people while they were in church, you assume it's just as reasonable to assume a good God exists than one who enjoys watching us suffer?"

-- There's no doubt that some people will think it more reasonable to assume an evil God exists, but I think it's unreasonable to assume either way. Theodicies aren't supposed to show God is good, they're supposed to show a good God isn't incompatible with suffering and evil. You didn't answer my question, however: If a resurrection occurs, would it be more reasonable to assume an evil God exists than the God whom the resurrected individual was revealing?

>>"For some reason, you seem to find Christian theodicies reasonable and Evil God anti-theodicies unreasonable"

-- I think they are both reasonable, in that they show that we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by looking at the goodness or evilness in the world, so I don't know what you're talking about.

>>"which is the point of Law's argument. He's not arguing that Evil God exists, merely that the reasons for thinking he does are just as good as the Christian's reasons for thinking their God exists (i.e. very bad)."

-- Only, that's not the *reason* why Christians *think* their God exists. Christianity, if you don't know, rests on the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there wouldn't be Christianity.

John said...

@Don,

>>"IF God could provide the same future reward with less suffering in the present, then he is not maximally loving."

-- He would be loving either way if the reward far outweighs the suffering. And, I don't think God is "maximally loving" in how you understand that concept as I've explained previously.

>>"Yes and yes."

-- If, in one case, someone got his just reward while the other got a little bit more, at what point does it become simple envy on the part of the one who got a bit less?

>>"I am arguing on theism."

-- Oh, O.K.

Anonymous said...

the last few posts are going a bit in circles, but it seems clear to me that law's argument is that all the argumentation used by theists in favor of their god can just as easily be used to argue for the existence of an evil god. Therefore, even if their arguments were valid, it would not necessarily lead to their belief system at all. If theodicy is meant to explain why evil can exist in a good world (which seems to be a challenge), then by all means one can with just as much justification, claim that any alleged supernatural event, from the resurrection, or even the mormon plates as someone mentioned, could easily be created by an evil god intent on causing humans pain, frustration and empty hope.

Anonymous said...

to clarify- i meant why evil seems to exist in a world under a good god- not a 'good world.' semantic issue

Buzz Moonman said...

Stephen said in the main post >>"Many - incl even some atheists - have the mistaken impression that atheists need to come up with an account of moral value if they are to defeat Craig's moral argument. That's obviously not the case. In fact, it's a big strategic mistake to even try."



Craig's premise of his moral argument is an assetion that he doesn't or can't substantiate so why not bowl him something to swing at and give him a natural objective basis for morality to try to refute as opposed to having him assert that his alternative basis works without evidence from him or refuting.

If we are going to refute his basis for morality then don't we need to supply one when one exists. Since supplying a natural objective basis for morality undermines the assertion in his false premise, why not do it?

By itself, it doesn't show the non existence of god but it is an argument for god's irrelevance when it comes to morality and can be part of a cumulative argument.

Buzz Moonman said...

@ John >> "Only, that's not the *reason* why Christians *think* their God exists. Christianity, if you don't know, rests on the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there wouldn't be Christianity."



Without the resurrection, there would still be Judaism and Jews would still be saying that their god (i.e. the same god as the Christian god) exists. It seems like Christians have many reasons for thinking their god exists and people are moving the goal post on one reason as Stephen has put forward a new way of looking at the non existence of their god and they want to bail on the reason his argument is directed at.

Miramax said...

@John "If a resurrection occurs, would it be more reasonable to assume an evil God exists than the God whom the resurrected individual was revealing?"

Which of the two alternatives would be more reasonable wholly depends on whether the supposed god would have a reason to deceive us about his character or not.

The evil god challenge works quite well in this regard, since a maximally evil god would most certainly want to deceive us about his character, given that deception/lying is evil. So revelation seems to work equally well on both accounts.

Come to think of it the conflicting interpretations of divine revelation actually lends more credibility to a deceptive god.

Paul Wright said...

@John: I think you're saying the universe just does its own thing unless God intervenes. You think a charitable interpretation of Craig's response to the PoE is then that we can't know about God from the universe doing its own thing, but that we can know that God's interventions show us his moral character.

Your view seems to contradict Romans 1:18-20, where Paul writes that "since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made". So it seems that the apostle does expect people to make inferences about God from creation. Since this passage is Paul's condemnation of people who do moral wrongs knowing that God exists, Paul would include God's goodness in things that can be understood from what he has made.

However, Craig usually responds to such difficulties by saying that it's possible to drop Biblical inerrancy and still be a Christian (though oddly, he has not done so).

The deeper problem is that the universe just doing what it does is also explained by Christianity with reference to God: he created it, sustains it, and he knows what's going on in it. The distinction between allowing things to go on as they are and acting makes sense for limited beings who may not have the knowledge of events or the power to act, but in the case of God, he's supposedly aware of everything and able to accomplish anything possible. As St Paul would say, the world reveals God too. Your "clear" distinction is not clear at all. (See also the section on narrow sceptical (sic) theism in John D's article on the subject, which is where I'm getting this stuff from).

Theodicies aren't supposed to show God is good, they're supposed to show a good God isn't incompatible with suffering and evil... [Good God theodicies and evil God anti-theodicies] are both reasonable, in that they show that we cannot ascertain the moral character of God by looking at the goodness or evilness in the world, so I don't know what you're talking about.

But I'm including the Evil God anti-theodicy for the resurrection in my list of evil God theodicies. That shows that the resurrection "isn't incompatible" with an Evil God, either. The Evil God believer who says that "Evil God belief rests on natural disasters like the Lisbon Earthquake" (the mirror of your statement about the resurrection) and rejects the evidence of the resurrection (even if they think it happened!) is as reasonable as you are, by your own argument.

I see no well-motivated distinction between "stuff that happens" and "stuff where God intervenes": on Christianity, God set the world up and sustains its existence, God knows what's going on at all times, and early Christians thought it reasonable to infer God's character from creation. If it is unreasonable to infer God's moral character from the Lisbon Earthquake, it is also unreasonable to do so from the resurrection. As it happens, I think its reasonable to draw inferences from both (though Thomas's point about the difficulty of going from the resurrection to modern Christianity is valid), but the Lisbon Earthquake happened and the resurrection probably didn't. I see no reason to suppose that the universe was created by a single being, but if it was, that being is probably indifferent to us.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Law, I don't quite understand the evil god challenge. I am assuming that your arguments are to counter Christians and their belief in a God. However, You have said in your debate and in your responses to comments that:
"I don't claim, or assume, that Christians base their judgement of what God is like on observation of the world."

If I assume that you use "observation of the world" to mean amount of good or evil, then are you saying that the christian disbelief of an evil god and belief in a good god is not based on the amount of good or amount of evil in the world but rather on some other criteria?

hence when you argue that you can rule out an evil god based on the amount of good in the world (and hence rule out a good god based on the evil) aren't you arguing against something that christians do not believe in anyways? (I assume that christians use the mere existence of evil and good as proof of a God in general and that they believe that God is good based on some other criteria)

really enjoyed the debate.
thanks,
stu

Don Severs said...

http://www.atheistconnect.org/2011/08/08/god-weeps-while-zachary-sandvig-2-cooks-in-minivan/

Maryann Spikes said...

A falling short (sin), or privation (evil) [sin=evil], of the way things are supposed to be (the good), cannot exist unless there really is a way things are supposed to be. So--first exists the way things are supposed to be, without which a falling short (sin), or privation (evil), is impossible (again, sin=evil). That good--that 'way'--is God. God, because he is omnipotent, cannot fall short of himself, cannot be a privation of himself, cannot depart from the way things are supposed to be (himself). Such falling short, privation, departing--all of those things are weakness.