The Evidential Problem Of Evil

An evidential POE argument from Peter Hurford of Greatplay.net:

1. Needless suffering, by definition, is any suffering that doesn’t exist because of a higher good.

2. Needless suffering, by definition, could be eliminated with no consequences.

3. Any all-good entity desires to eliminate all needless suffering.

4. Any all-knowing entity would know of all needless suffering, if any needless suffering exists.

5. Any all-powerful entity would be capable of eliminating all needless suffering.

6. Our world contains needless suffering.

7. Therefore from 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and 6, an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing entity cannot exist.

8. God, as described by the major religions is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.

9. Therefore from 7 and 8, God as described by the major religions does not exist.

I recently said that all the POE arguments I’ve heard reduce to arguments from incredulity, and this argument is no different. Inability to conceive of a higher good is the only thing grounding the claim that any given instance of suffering is needless. 6 is a naked assertion sustained only by incredulity. That alone invalidates the argument in my opinion, but I can make a stronger case.

One thing I find troubling about POE arguments in general is that both sides rarely tailor them to a specific theology. This promotes generic arguments and rebuttals, so let’s identify some specific theologies and evaluate each against Peter’s argument. I will paint somewhat broadly to avoid getting bogged down in theological disputes.

On universalism, all sufferers eventually inherit eternal paradise, and no sufferers suffer eternally. On exclusivism, only a minority of sufferers inherit eternal paradise, and the majority suffer either finitely [annihilation], or infinitely [eternal torment]. The argument map varies according to the ontology under consideration, and I’d like to avoid appealing to a subjective value judgment [e.g., Peter might not think the suffering is worth it, but God might]. Though certainly a valid reply—and perhaps ultimately inevitable—I think we should attempt an “as objective as we can get” method of evaluation.

There are at least two ways to try this: we can evaluate tokens of suffering vs. tokens of joy, or we can evaluate the number of agents experiencing suffering vs. the number of agents experiencing joy. For simplicity’s sake, I might use U for universalism, E/A for exclusivism with annihilation, and E/ET for exclusivism with eternal torment.

Peter attempts to buttress 6:

If suffering is not needless, then eliminating that suffering also eliminates the higher good, and we are worse off overall by eliminating that suffering. This means that any suffering we are better off without is needless suffering. And it turns out there is a lot of suffering we are better off without; any notion that suffering exists for some greater good is a notion that crippling polio and smallpox was necessary, and that the world is now worse because we eradicated these diseases. Clearly, “God allows suffering for greater good” and “God wants us to work to ameliorate suffering” are entirely incompatible statements.

From there, he formulates the following supporting argument:

10. If an instance of suffering that is necessary (because of a higher good) were prevented, then that higher good would also be prevented.

11. Therefore from 10, preventing necessary suffering makes us worse off.

12. There are some instances of suffering that were prevented where we did not become worse off.

13. Therefore from 11 and 12, needless suffering exists (and 6 is true).

I’m fairly comfortable granting 10 and 11, but how can anyone know that we are better off without polio and small pox? 12 appears to be a naked assertion with no evidence or argumentation to support it. It might seem intuitively true, but many things that seem intuitively true are apparently false [cf. geocentrism]. Conversely, many things that seem intuitively false are apparently true [cf. quantum mechanics]. Like 6 in the main argument, 12 is a naked assertion sustained only by incredulity: “I can’t imagine how we would be better off with polio and small pox, ergo we were better off preventing them.” There is more that could be said here—for example, we could talk about whether the higher good has to follow every instance of suffering and obtain in this life, as I explore here—but per Peter’s definition of “needless suffering,” the truth or falsity of 6 hinges on one criterion only: whether or not suffering entails a higher good. For the sake of argument, I will grant the fallacious premises.

Peter clarifies 1:

If someone gets more benefit from the suffering than they suffer, then the suffering is not needless — instead it exists because of a higher good.

On that logic, if tokens are the primary criterion and tokens of joy outnumber tokens of suffering, the scale tips to the “higher good” side and the argument seems defeated. Conversely, if tokens of suffering outnumber tokens of joy, the scale tips to the “needless suffering” side and the argument seems intact. This is an evaluation of net suffering vs. net joy.

If agents are the primary criterion, as long as agents experiencing joy outnumber agents experiencing suffering, the scale tips to the “higher good” side and the argument seems defeated. Conversely, as long as agents experiencing suffering outnumber agents experiencing joy, the scale tips to the “needless suffering” side and the argument seems intact. This is an evaluation of net sufferers vs. net jubilants [with jubilant being used atypically as a noun denoting those who experience joy; I’m open to a better word if you can think of one].

It seems safe to say that by any conceivable unit of measure, a sufferer who inherits eternal paradise “gets more benefit” in comparison to their temporary suffering. Therefore, no sufferer who inherits eternal paradise experiences needless suffering [according to Peter’s definition]. Consequently, if universalism is true, the argument is irrevocably defeated whether we evaluate by tokens or agents. If all agents eventually inherit infinite tokens of joy, then finite tokens of suffering entail a higher good and the discussion ends there.

What if exclusivism is true? What if only a minority of sufferers inherit eternal paradise? Is a minority in eternal paradise “worth” the majority who aren’t? The answers vary according to whether we evaluate E/A or E/ET. They also vary according to whether we use tokens or agents as the primary criterion.

If E/A is true, and tokens are the primary criterion, the argument seems defeated again, even if only one person inherits eternal paradise. After all, no matter how many tokens are experienced before God annihilates sufferers, that number is necessarily finite and therefore less than the infinite number of tokens experienced by the one who inherited eternal paradise. The discussion ends there.

However, if E/A is true and agents are the primary criterion, things start to get a little fuzzy. I defined exclusivism as the ontology in which a minority inherit eternal paradise, and the majority suffer either infinitely or finitely [finitely in this case]. Is 10 agents experiencing infinite joy “better than” 100 agents experiencing finite suffering before annihilation? I think so, but unfortunately, that seems to reduce to a subjective value judgment. Can anyone think of a more objective way to judge this case?

Moving along, if E/ET is true, tokens of suffering and tokens of joy are both infinite. This seems to force an evaluation of agents, and unfortunately, this progression also seems to lead inevitably towards a subjective value judgment. Is 10 agents experiencing infinite joy “better than” 100 agents experiencing infinite suffering? I don’t think so, but at the same time, I can’t deny the possibility. God might think so, but I’m skeptical, and I lean towards calling that a loss. IOW, the argument would seem provisionally intact [presuming we grant the fallacious premises].

So, to recap: this argument contains fallacious premises, and even if we grant them, U undeniably falsifies 6 and defeats the argument as currently stated. Evaluated by tokens, E/A also undeniably falsifies 6 and defeats the argument as currently stated. Evaluated by agents, E/A seems strong enough to provisionally defeat the argument, but I would not say it undeniably does so because one might object to the subjective value judgment [that 10 agents experiencing infinite joy is “better than” 100 agents experiencing finite suffering before annihilation]. We cannot reliably evaluate E/ET by tokens, but an evaluation by agents seems to leave the argument provisionally intact [presuming we grant the fallacious premises and accept the subjective value judgment]. At best, this argument contains fallacious premises and only makes a provisional case against E/A and E/ET when evaluated by agents. At worst, it can’t even get off the ground [because it contains fallacious premises].

Where might we go from here?

87 Comments

  1. tmp says:

    cl,

    While I don’t see question of suffering as a particularly convincing argument, I feel that the “higher good justifies suffering” argument does not work. If we define NEEDED suffering, it should be something like this:

    1) This instance of suffering leads to more valuable higher good.

    2) God is unable to achieve the good in question without resorting to suffering.

    It’s hard to reconcile omnipotent God with point 2.

  2. cl says:

    Well, 1) is synonymous with definition on offer, and I disagree with your claim that it’s hard to reconcile an omnipotent God with point 2. I also object to the string, “resorting to.” I would rewrite 2) as, “God is unable to achieve the good in question without allowing some degree of suffering.” If “free” means “the ability to do good or evil,” free beings necessarily entail the possibility of evil. God could not create free beings without this possibility.

  3. bossmanham says:

    Not to mention the Felix Culpa argument, that would posit that the greatest good imaginable, the coming of Christ to redeem humanity, would be impossible without a humanity in need of redemption.

  4. InsultsOverTruth says:

    “How can anyone know if we would be better off without polio and smallpox?”

    Now this is the high level of religious, deluded horsecrap that I love to savor.

    And don’t forget cancer, and birth defects. How about that CMV virus that is passed from mother to child in utero. It leaves children quadriplegics, deaf, and prone to seizures. Praise Jeezus!!! Praise his holy name!! Thank you Jebus for the CMV virus!

    And as the christian nutters on this site say, “How do we know that we would be better off without this wonderful CMV virus. Maybe our precious lord has ways that are just too darn mysterious for our little, deluded minds.”

    Praise Jeezuss!!!! Thank you for birth defects, Jeezus!!

  5. tmp says:

    cl,

    “I disagree with your claim that it’s hard to reconcile an omnipotent God with point 2”

    So, you are saying that omnipotent God has limitations(other than logical paradoxes that pit omnipotence against itself), and thus is not REALLY omnipotent?

    “I also object to the string, ‘resorting to.’ I would rewrite 2)”

    I’m not a native speaker. But the idea behind both sentences is the same, so go ahead.

    “free beings necessarily entail the possibility of evil”

    We are not talking about evil here, we are talking about suffering.

  6. tmp says:

    cl,

    I’m trying to put this in a clearer way. If someone says “I cannot conceive how an omnibenevolent God would allow this instance of suffering”, then ONE of the counterarguments you could use is “it leads to higher good”. The followup argument then is “I cannot conceive how an omnipotent God would be unable to achieve this instance of higher good without allowing suffering”, and you MUST counter by arguing that God’s omnipotence has limits. The question then is, if God’s omnipotence has limits, is it really omnipotence?

  7. cl says:

    bossmanham,

    Without having checked it out, I don’t see that as the greatest good possible. I see that as the greatest good given a fallen world. Either way, thanks for the heads up.

    tmp,

    So, you are saying that omnipotent God has limitations(other than logical paradoxes that pit omnipotence against itself), and thus is not REALLY omnipotent?

    Not at all. The only limitations I assert are logical impossibilities, as I’ve alluded to.

    We are not talking about evil here, we are talking about suffering.

    Evil necessarily precedes suffering; suffering necessarily entails evil. God is just.

    The followup argument then is “I cannot conceive how an omnipotent God would be unable to achieve this instance of higher good without allowing suffering”, and you MUST counter by arguing that God’s omnipotence has limits.

    Of course, that argument is fallacious [if used to imply that God cannot exist]. Fallaciousness aside, it’s not true that I must argue that. I could argue that—for example, I could point out that God could not make free beings incapable of disobedience (hence evil, hence suffering)—but I could also argue that the end result is better off even with the suffering, or that the suffering is necessarily to establish the empirical truth of sin and its adverse consequences. I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post on the so-called problem of heaven.

    The question then is, if God’s omnipotence has limits, is it really omnipotence?

    That’s asking for a dispute over words. I define “omnipotence” as the ability to do all logically possible things.

  8. joseph says:

    I think this argument has the problems that CL has identified, an athrist is left with no objective meand of judging whether suffering is needless or not, at most it provides evidence that God allows it’s creations to currently live through events they percieve as horrific, painful and traumatising and leaves a theist retreating to the possible. But ultimately a loving God, by this argument, is still possible.

    Atheists are left arguing they have a gut feeling about it, which they hate doing as sitting on the rational high horse is fun.

    The contradictions/difficulty of reconciliation between the free will defense of suffering (needless or otherwise) and the possibility of a new world/heaven with free will but minus suffering are much more intriguing.

  9. joseph says:

    @Bossmanham,
    Not to mention the Felix Culpa argument, that would posit that the greatest good imaginable, the coming of Christ to redeem humanity, would be impossible without a humanity in need of redemption.

    I am left with the impression of an arsonist firefighter arguing that all the burning was necessary to exhibit their skills.

  10. tmp says:

    cl,

    “Of course, that argument is fallacious [if used to imply that God cannot exist].”

    I’m not arguing that it’s a good argument for nonexistence of God. I’m arguing that this particular counterargument, suffering is instrumental for higher good, is problematic.

    Well, if you (reasonably) argue that logical possiblity is a limit on omnipotence, you can argue that suffering is logically necessary for some higher good. Free will does not work here(as the higher good), though. And even if it is an argument from incredulousness, the counterargument goes through so many contortions that people may just decide that it is good enough.

    “Evil necessarily precedes suffering; suffering necessarily entails evil.”

    Anyplace I could find more information about this. I don’t get that one. Anyway, I was talking about evil as committed by a sapient free-willed being as opposed to suffering that has other causes.

    “That’s asking for a dispute over words. I define ‘omnipotence’ as the ability to do all logically possible things.”

    This is always a problem. Defining ‘omnibenevolent’ so that everyone can agree is not easy either.

  11. cl says:

    joseph,

    Atheists are left arguing they have a gut feeling about it, which they hate doing as sitting on the rational high horse is fun.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    tmp,

    I’m not arguing that it’s a good argument for nonexistence of God.

    I know, that’s why I qualified my statement with an “if” in the brackets.

    I’m arguing that this particular counterargument, suffering is instrumental for higher good, is problematic.

    I understand, but I don’t think you’ve demonstrated anything problematic.

    Well, if you (reasonably) argue that logical possibility is a limit on omnipotence, you can argue that suffering is logically necessary for some higher good. Free will does not work here(as the higher good), though. And even if it is an argument from incredulousness, the counterargument goes through so many contortions that people may just decide that it is good enough.

    I’m not sure what that translates to. You seem to grant that suffering may be necessary for a higher good, but then you say “free will does not work here,” and I’m having trouble following.

    Anyway, I was talking about evil as committed by a sapient free-willed being as opposed to suffering that has other causes.

    But this doesn’t take my view into account. On my view, all suffering is the result of evil committed by sentient beings. IOW, if no sentient beings had ever sinned, there would be no suffering. Yes, I understand that this conflicts with the traditional materialist account of Earth’s origin [i.e., that many animals suffered before man’s sin]. That’s a different discussion.

    Defining ‘omnibenevolent’ so that everyone can agree is not easy either.

    Perhaps. That’s why I gave a clear definition. I’m still not sure what you mean by the word. Can you clarify?

  12. tmp says:

    cl,

    “I understand, but I don’t think you’ve demonstrated anything problematic.”

    Well, you are countering an argument from incredulousness, and doing it by using a tiny subset of possible higher goods. It’s logically valid, but not terribly convincing. But perhaps that was not your intention.

    “free will does not work here”

    If free will is highly valuable(good) compared to suffering, then it is immoral to try to stop people from excercising their free will even if it leads to suffering. The free will, or rather freedom to act unhindered, of the perpetrator is more valuable than the suffering of the victim.

    “On my view, all suffering is the result of evil committed by sentient beings. IOW, if no sentient beings had ever sinned, there would be no suffering.”

    Ok. That’s probably the reason why some people find the argument (and counterarguments) more convincing than others. There is a great deal of differences in the underlying assumptions.

    “Perhaps. That’s why I gave a clear definition. I’m still not sure what you mean by the word. Can you clarify?”

    Ah, I just meant that there tends to be nuance differences with all words when different people use them. Exact definition of omnibenevolence is not relevant here.

  13. joseph says:

    @CL et al

    Can I ask if the Christians here view viruses, pathogenic organisms etc. as God’s creations, the Devil’s creations, or something that was allowed to evolve (corrupted forms of God’s creations)? Oh I just did!

    I’m a little curious as to how the answer relates to CL’s stated position that:

    “On my view, all suffering is the result of evil committed by sentient beings. IOW, if no sentient beings had ever sinned, there would be no suffering.”

  14. cl says:

    tmp,

    How does “infinite tokens of joy” qualify as a “tiny subset of higher goods?” It seems to me that infinite tokens of joy is the highest possible good.

    It’s logically valid, but not terribly convincing.

    That one might not find a given counterargument “not terribly convincing” is subjective opinion. If we are to be rationalists who follow the evidence and arguments wherever they lead, then logical validity should supersede subjectivity. Now, if somebody wanted to say, “I don’t think that’s logically valid and here’s why,” that would be different.

    If free will is highly valuable(good) compared to suffering, then it is immoral to try to stop people from excercising their free will even if it leads to suffering. The free will, or rather freedom to act unhindered, of the perpetrator is more valuable than the suffering of the victim.

    It sounds like you have your own argument against the problem of suffering, and at first glance, I agree with you, at least in part. This is why I believe God doesn’t force people to be good. It’s our choice.

    There is a great deal of differences in the underlying assumptions.

    As with most arguments. But at least now, we understand each other better.

    joseph,

    I don’t have a clear answer there, but as far as relating it to my statement you cited, I’d say that if Satan introduces them, it’s evil, because the motive would be to maximize suffering. If God introduces them, it’s not evil, because the motive is to minimize suffering. Using small pox and polio as examples, it’s really easy to look at those and assert that they maximize suffering, but that position reduces to the “gut feeling” we both criticize. It could very well be that those situations actually prevented much more suffering than they produced.

  15. bossmanham says:

    joseph,

    Your ability to give random meaningless and terrible analogies is noted.

    To see Plantinga’s paper on the issue, do the Polka and click here.

  16. joseph says:

    Thankyou CL,
    Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer, (honest, accurate, avoids the maligned bovine faecal material).

    Another pop question. If suffering is part of “the plan”, is it double think for believers to work to alleviate suffering? Our would you say that suffering allows good moral backbone to be demonstrated (not necessarily to each other, but to God, or whoever, or whatever). Sorry if it sounds like an absurd question, just I heard of a group of Christians argue that they shouldn’t be working to prevent glibal warming. That’s not a dig, both sides of the discussion have more than enough idiots.

  17. cl,

    I’m glad you organized these categories by doctrine. Do you have a preference for any of them? I’d like to wade into the discussion but I would like to narrow it to a discussion of one doctrine in order to avoid confusion.

  18. cl says:

    Currently, I think the Bible best supports E/A.

  19. joseph says:

    If i’ve understood you right, thanks for granting me annihilation, it’s what we give our pets, and more than the indubitably interesting WLC grants me (no sarcasm).

  20. patrick kelly says:

    The whole POE assumes that suffering is bad/evil, and that the ultimate good is immediate elimination of all suffering. This is not necessarily true within any given belief about the existence or nature of good, powerful, knowing God or gods.

  21. I’ve begun my attempt at a response to your objections. To begin, I’ve published “Revisiting the Problem of Evil, Part I”, where I attempt to summarize your argument and my argument.

    Please let me know if I’ve done an accurate job, and I will then commence to my responses to your argument.

    Hopefully something valuable will be gained from this exchange. I’ve already learned lots from just thinking about your objections.

  22. joseph says:

    @Bossman Ham,
    LOL, I have so many more serious flaws, but thankyou for taking the time to highlight that one! Phone my wife if you want the full list.

    Thanks for the paper too, though I don’t quite understand why the display is essential, after all we are often told that God shouldn’t have to perform worldwide, simultaneous, irrefutable, testable miracles to prove his power…
    Isn’t a world that doesn’t need such drastic measures to save a better world than the one that makes it by the most drastic means available? Albeit with a lesser display.

  23. Leahn Novash says:

    However, if E/A is true and agents are the primary criterion, things start to get a little fuzzy. I defined exclusivism as the ontology in which a minority inherit eternal paradise, and the majority suffer either infinitely or finitely [finitely in this case]. Is 10 agents experiencing infinite joy “better than” 100 agents experiencing finite suffering before annihilation? I think so, but unfortunately, that seems to reduce to a subjective value judgment. Can anyone think of a more objective way to judge this case?

    I can. Consider the fact that the 100 agents that were anihilated after experiencing finite suffering will be replaced by the offsprings of the 10 agents allowed to experience infinite joy, ultimately resulting in 100 agents experiencing infinite joy.

  24. joseph says:

    It is not clear that those in the “new worldx reproduce though…

  25. Hey cl, can you tell me if I adequately summarized the current state of our disagreement in http://www.greatplay.net/essays/revisiting-the-problem-of-evil-part-i?

    I’m going to be formulating my actual response to your argument soon, so I want a chance to get your input before I proceed.

  26. cl says:

    Sorry Peter, been preoccupied with a bunch of other stuff. I saw that you’d responded, I’ve already read the response, I just haven’t got around to articulating my differences yet… :)

    Soon though. Thanks for the straight-forward approach and not launching back with a personal attack like other atheists do when their arguments are under attack!

  27. Sorry Peter, been preoccupied with a bunch of other stuff.

    Ah, no worries, I definitely understand. Just wanted to make sure it was brought to your attention.

    What I will do is have you bring up any misunderstandings, and I will re-edit my current essay continuously until I have an accurate understanding of your argument.

    Then I will see if there is anything I have problems with / want to refute. I thought it better than refuting something you didn’t actually say.

  28. Alrenous says:

    but how can anyone know that we are better off without polio and small pox?

    I am an agnostic. I find Christianity amusing.

    The argument you want is, “Imagine it is a better world when we solve smallpox ourselves, rather than having it solved for us.” Case closed, all ‘needless’ suffering could easily be due to an unknown higher good.

    Even Christians think God obeys the laws of logic – not that he has to, but that he does. It must have been logically impossible to make a good universe without the possibility of Lucifer (because things that happened must have been possible) and Lucifer implies smallpox. Your true options are smallpox or nonexistence. Or a universe with even more suffering.

    If you were arguing with a skeptic this would beg several questions, but I understand you’re not a Christ-skeptic.

    Can anyone think of a more objective way to judge this case?

    Consciousness is qualitative, not quantitative. The mere addition paradox is resolved because the operation ‘adding’ is not valid for sensations.
    If even one of the punished were punished unjustly, the whole action is wrong. So basically, you repeat the ‘higher good’ argument here. Does punishing the sinner lead to unnecessary suffering…or does the converse?
    Unfortunately this whole line of thinking implies pure-consequentialist ethics, which are self-contradictory, because, again, consciousness is qualitative, not quantitative. You have to distinguish wrong from right. If the action is right, then it doesn’t matter what the consequences are. The theory may include consequences (mine does) but once shown to be right, an action is simply right.

    Of course, equally there may not be any higher good, which if proven would indeed falsify the hypothesis.

  29. cl says:

    Alrenous,

    Howdy there.

    The argument you want is, “Imagine it is a better world when we solve smallpox ourselves, rather than having it solved for us.” Case closed, all ‘needless’ suffering could easily be due to an unknown higher good.

    Didn’t you notice this is entailed by the argument I gave?

    …I understand you’re not a Christ-skeptic.

    You speak presumptuously. You have no idea what I’m skeptical of, or of the doubts I wrestle with.

    Unfortunately this whole line of thinking implies pure-consequentialist ethics,

    That’s because the POE on offer appeals to pure-consequentialist ethics. Atheists and skeptics are more than welcomed to offer POE arguments that don’t appeal to consequences, in which case I’ll adjust my responses accordingly.

    You have to distinguish wrong from right.

    And how would you suggest one go about this in a way both parties can agree to? By all means, help us out.

  30. Alrenous says:

    I said ‘want’ because you want to imply that, but didn’t.

    I don’t speak presumptuously. It is a fact that I understand you’re not a Christ-skeptic. Moreover, from context I mean it doesn’t beg questions for you. Either of my understandings may be in error; if you’d care to inform me, I’d take it kindly.

    That’s because the POE on offer appeals to pure-consequentialist ethics.

    Point taken. This does mean you can kill it by attacking the root, though – consequentialist ethics. I can see you prefer to attack root AND branch, though.

    I don’t understand why you prefer to, though. (Statement of ignorance, not objection.)

    And how would you suggest one go about this in a way both parties can agree to? By all means, help us out.

    You asked a question; my answer is such that, in this case, you’d have to attack their ethics directly instead of simply evaluating atheist arguments by atheist ethics.
    So, I guess that means you’d have to establish meta-ethics between the parties.

  31. cl says:

    I said ‘want’ because you want to imply that, but didn’t.

    Sorry you didn’t connect the dots. That is one of many possible responses. It is not my preferred response.

    I don’t speak presumptuously. It is a fact that I understand you’re not a Christ-skeptic. Moreover, from context I mean it doesn’t beg questions for you.

    Okay then that’s my bad. I read you wrong. Too much time in the trenches over at VoxWorld. But I don’t see why you say it doesn’t beg questions for me. If all you mean is that I accept the inability to do the logically impossible, I’d say that shouldn’t beg questions for anybody.

    This does mean you can kill it by attacking the root, though – consequentialist ethics. I can see you prefer to attack root AND branch, though.

    I agree with you that the whole thing hinges on what’s really right and wrong. The problem is, an atheist and a Christian can rarely come to common ground on what’s really right and wrong, let alone how to discern the difference between the two. So, I usually try to avoid that route since it doesn’t lend well to shared goalposts. In this argument, I refuted Peter’s POE according to his own ideas of what right and wrong entail.

    You asked a question; my answer is such that, in this case, you’d have to attack their ethics directly instead of simply evaluating atheist arguments by atheist ethics.
    So, I guess that means you’d have to establish meta-ethics between the parties.

    Exactly. That strikes me as another argument for another place, perhaps suitable in a book-length dissertation on the subject. For the here and now, I’m just trying to fight on Peter’s ground, showing the his argument doesn’t work even if I grant his own ethics.

    I hope some of that helps, and I’m glad to be fielding comments not related to the debate over at VoxWorld.

  32. Alrenous says:

    So, I usually try to avoid that route since it doesn’t lend well to shared goalposts.

    That answers me, thanks.
    But that means their ethics aren’t objective. They need a falsification condition, and if they had one you could either falsify it or have to agree with it.

    VoxWorld

    Hey cl, what do you believe about where intuitions come from? Engaging in a little x-phi here.

  33. cl says:

    But that means their ethics aren’t objective.

    If you’re interested in my thoughts on objective ethics, I suggest Surviving Philosophy: Objective & Objective. If my position remains unclear, I’d be glad to clarify.

    …what do you believe about where intuitions come from?

    I’m agnostic as to where they come from, or if they even come from anywhere. I simply acknowledge their existence.

  34. joseph says:

    Hey cL,
    Back from the dead. Do you have any thoughts as to whether Christians ought try to reduce suffering in this world, given they may be sabotaging God’s Plan?
    Also you’ve been requested to comment on one of the posts at CSA (people find Less wrong Cult-like).

  35. Crude says:

    Even Christians think God obeys the laws of logic – not that he has to, but that he does.

    Minor point in this context but – I don’t think this is right for most Christians, or at least most theologians/philosophers. Making a square circle isn’t ‘possible, but God won’t do that’ for those Christians.

    My understanding is that some schools of muslim thought do believe this – something about God transcending logic.

  36. Alrenous says:

    Yes, I understand the same about Allah. I have bought a report that certain muslims won’t bother to clean their guns because it’ll jam if Allah wants it to but not otherwise.

    If the square circle isn’t (possible but undesired), what do they believe, then?
    I’m always curious. Partly this is because I found I never know in advance if a point really is minor or not, but mainly just because I’m a curious person.

  37. cl, given there’s renewed interest in this topic, I’d like to again open a diologue about my summary of your argument at http://www.greatplay.net/essays/revisiting-the-problem-of-evil-part-i

    I can already tell that I already missed some of the “Imagine it is a better world when we solve smallpox ourselves, rather than having it solved for us” part, so I’m going to update my summary to reflect that.

    Thanks. I understand you’re busy, especially with your judging of the Vox-Dominic debate (good job callin’ ’em as you see ’em there, by the way), but I’m really excited to further understand the merits of the PoE.

  38. Crude says:

    If the square circle isn’t (possible but undesired), what do they believe, then?
    I’m always curious. Partly this is because I found I never know in advance if a point really is minor or not, but mainly just because I’m a curious person.

    I think the fast version is that omnipotence under Christian thought (well, most Christian thought) cashes out to the ability to ‘bring about any logically possible state of affairs’. Questions like these get into how God is conceived – in a Platonic/Neo-Platonic way, or an Aristotilean way, or… etc.

  39. I agree with you that the whole thing hinges on what’s really right and wrong. The problem is, an atheist and a Christian can rarely come to common ground on what’s really right and wrong, let alone how to discern the difference between the two. So, I usually try to avoid that route since it doesn’t lend well to shared goalposts. In this argument, I refuted Peter’s POE according to his own ideas of what right and wrong entail.

    I still think it’s possible to root a Problem of Evil without needing to appeal to morality. I think it’s easily possible to say “Yes, God allows needless suffering, but he’s still all-loving and morally perfect.” While I think that statement is self-contradictory, the proof of what morally perfect refers to is not necessary for the “Yes, God allows needless suffering” part to be debated.

    My only goal here is to demonstrate “Yes, God allows needless suffering”. The demonstration that “allowing needless suffering is immoral” is for another day.

  40. cl says:

    joseph,

    Do you have any thoughts as to whether Christians ought try to reduce suffering in this world, given they may be sabotaging God’s Plan?

    They absolutely, unequivocally should, following Jesus’ example. Christians are to undo the works of the sin and the enemy as much as possible. Even typing that makes me realize how badly I fail in this regard.

    Also you’ve been requested to comment on one of the posts at CSA (people find Less wrong Cult-like).

    Thanks. I just hopped over there and saw it. Maybe I’ll jump in.

    Alrenous,

    If the square circle isn’t (possible but undesired), what do they believe, then?

    I believe it’s logically impossible, and that that is a properly basic statement.

  41. cl says:

    Hey, Peter, the comments were coming in so fast I missed yours. Yes, I fully intend to get back to your argument. I’ve read it a few times, I’m almost ready to comment, I just want to read it one more time with a fresh mind to make sure I’m giving you my best.

    …judging of the Vox-Dominic debate (good job callin’ ‘em as you see ‘em there, by the way),

    Hey thanks. I’m pretty much over it at this point, and I might even resign early. Vox and his sycophants act so immaturely and so anti-Christian that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously, and I’ve got better things to do than weather foul-mouthery in Jesus’ name. Besides, now that Vox has taken it upon himself to instantiate the scoring system, he wins almost no matter what. The only other possibility is that all three judges vote Vox for Round Three, in which case we need a tiebreaker. I’ll make an official statement on the matter shortly… thanks for support.

  42. Alrenous says:

    I see, thanks Crude.

    Peter, your summary looked fine to me, aside from things cl thought he implied, but didn’t.

    Okay, I’ll analyze the morality/suffering nexus again, to make sure.
    How that works is that God would do something morally right that would cause additional suffering – he had another option, also morally right, that caused less suffering.
    Yeah, the problem is that all the theist’s arguments should be, “No, that isn’t needless, because the alternative is immoral.” E.g, slavery. You could end slavery but you’d have to also end free will to do it, and that would be a direct contradiction of the definition of free will; as a direct God-gift, that would be God going back on His explicit word. Also, arguments about free will is better etc etc.

    Empirically, you could show that God allows needless suffering. However, the necessary information does not exist. The theist can always argue; it is still reasonable for you two to conclude differently. (Note; falsification by counter-example.)

  43. Alrenous says:

    Thanks, cl.

    Normally I’d assume you’d assume I appreciate answers, and forgo posting such a contentless comment. I justify this one with the preceding meta-comment.

  44. Crude says:

    Just to throw my own thoughts in here…

    There’s no way to eliminate suffering without eliminating sufferers. A Crude who never experienced evil – or ever did evil, for that matter – would be a distinct and different Crude. Which would, on Christianity, in and of itself establish that ‘gratuitous suffering’ is not possible.

  45. cl says:

    Alrenous,

    Normally I’d assume you’d assume I appreciate answers, and forgo posting such a contentless comment.

    Yeah, I probably should’ve trusted my instincts about you from the getgo, but I’m a sucker for charity. We should probably part ways here, since you think you’ve got it all figured out. Take care.

  46. Alrenous says:

    I still want to know where you’d say intuitions come from. Though if you’d rather not, I respect that.

    You shouldn’t chastise Vox for insults and then turn around and call me a charity case. Seriously…dude. But anyway…

    Err…what? Did I accidentally imply something insulting?

    How does asking questions imply that I have it all figured out?

    Though as a matter of fact, your intuition is right. I do have it all figured out. But if I’m wrong, it’ll stay that way unless you(plural) tell me how. You won’t know how to tell me what’s wrong unless I tell you what I believe.

    On the other hand, if you’d rather not take the trouble, I respect that.
    As the first intuition was correct, I hesitantly conclude that your intuition that you shouldn’t engage is also accurate. In which case, take care yourself.

  47. Alrenous says:

    I learned something. Strategic thinking is what gets me accused of being a know-it-all. This is kind of hard to explain…but basically, I criticized your strategy, and your response wasn’t, “That won’t work because X,” nor “Oh hey, great idea,” but rather, “Shut up and go away, you know-it-all.” (That last comment is me making sure you really want me to. Now that I’m sure, after this comment I will.)

    I should mention it looks, to me, like you’re running because you’re afraid to engage me, and you’re afraid because you should be. I got Vox to run from me too, incidentally. I have it on record. (Falsification: you were just having dinner or etc, or were very pissed about dealing with Vox, which means you answer my questions or something equivalent.)

    In other news, I want to declare my appreciation for your judging of Vox’s debate – it allowed the debate to happen. Vox repeatedly gets accused of being ‘sneaky’ and such, and always denies it. Between that and my own observation, I suspect it was true, and the debate has given me the opportunity to check that the details match the prediction. In addition, I’ve been able to check my analysis against yours, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (I did miss at least one thing.)
    And…the details match. Indeed, it is much worse than you implied. E.g. I just learned that the Ilk really are echo chambers, because they’re denouncing you en-mass, but think Vox is a saint. While I don’t think it’s as bad as Myer’s place, Vox deserves to feel quite a bit of guilt. Doesn’t, of course. Just like he claims to not care – and indeed probably thinks he doesn’t – yet is sublimely bait-able.

  48. cl says:

    You persist.

    I still want to know where you’d say intuitions come from. Though if you’d rather not, I respect that.

    I answered your question: I don’t know where they come from. I acknowledge they exist. The most I can say is that they don’t come from logical inference. They simply arise.

    You shouldn’t chastise Vox for insults and then turn around and call me a charity case. Seriously…dude. But anyway…

    I didn’t call you a “charity case,” that’s you putting words in my mouth and seeing insults where none were intended. Seriously, “dude,” when I said “I’m a sucker for charity,” that meant giving one’s interlocutor the benefit of the doubt–despite any, ahem… intuitions that such might be unwarranted.

    Err…what? Did I accidentally imply something insulting?

    No. You’re flippant. I’ve got no time for it. Flippant people are usually those who think they’ve got it all figured out.

    Now, enjoy your weekend. If you want to come back some other time, maybe we can try again. I’m done here.

    Strategic thinking is what gets me accused of being a know-it-all.

    Incorrect. As I said, flippancy is what got you accused.

    …basically, I criticized your strategy, and your response wasn’t, “That won’t work because X,” nor “Oh hey, great idea,” but rather, “Shut up and go away, you know-it-all.”

    Try again. You asked me a question. I gave you a meaningful answer, which you eschewed. So, my response is, “Okay, what’s the point if you don’t even want to engage?” Kapish? [or capisci, in case a certain pedant is reading].

    I should mention it looks, to me, like you’re running because you’re afraid to engage me, and you’re afraid because you should be.

    Right. That’s why I said “enjoy your weekend” and “maybe we can try again.” Because I’m scared.

    I got Vox to run from me too, incidentally. I have it on record.

    Who-hoo! As if that’s difficult. Don’t stroke yourself too hard there. Vox Day is not the “superintelligence” people make him out to be. I’ve put him on the defensive, too. Big whoop. Want a cookie? I don’t.

    In other news, I want to declare my appreciation for your judging of Vox’s debate – it allowed the debate to happen. Vox repeatedly gets accused of being ‘sneaky’ and such, and always denies it. Between that and my own observation, I suspect it was true, and the debate has given me the opportunity to check that the details match the prediction. In addition, I’ve been able to check my analysis against yours, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (I did miss at least one thing.)
    And…the details match. Indeed, it is much worse than you implied. E.g. I just learned that the Ilk really are echo chambers, because they’re denouncing you en-mass, but think Vox is a saint. While I don’t think it’s as bad as Myer’s place, Vox deserves to feel quite a bit of guilt. Doesn’t, of course. Just like he claims to not care – and indeed probably thinks he doesn’t – yet is sublimely bait-able.

    Hey, nothing but honest and due respect from me to you there. I concur, and I’d be interested in reading your extended commentary on the debate. Yes, he’s very bait-able, very predictable, and very easy to button-push on. Anyone that proud and haughty usually is.

    Have a nice weekend, I mean that in earnest. Let’s talk POE some other time. I’m due for a blogging break, as you seem to have noticed.

  49. Alrenous says:

    I apologize for implying a flippant answer. It was not my intention…though I’m likely to do so again, because I don’t know how I did it.

    I asked what Christians thought, you answered, I thanked you. Notably, I won’t usually post a comment that is nothing but a thank-you. If that’s not what it appeared, again I apologize.

    I also apologize for my harsh and hasty assessment of you, with regards to retreat. Your subsequent actions have indeed falsified it, and I formally retract it.

    You didn’t answer the intuition thing until now, unless it was on Vox Popoli, in which case it got deleted before I could read it. Again, thanks, that is what I was asking for. (This thank-you would also normally not appear, except it has the rest of the comment to piggy-back on. I don’t post content-less comments.)

    My extended commentary. Spoiler; I think everyone is wrong, including you and Vox re: the scoring. As I admitted, I do think I have everything figured out. By my personal scoring system everyone is in the negatives. I’m looking forward to roughly totting it up after round 3; these numbers are always surprising.

    I learned something: retracting statements is reliably fun, surprisingly so. Indeed, this is why I have everything figured out; I retracted all the things I didn’t. (Not publicly, though.)

  50. @Alrenous:

    Yeah, the problem is that all the theist’s arguments should be, “No, that isn’t needless, because the alternative is immoral.” E.g, slavery. You could end slavery but you’d have to also end free will to do it, and that would be a direct contradiction of the definition of free will; as a direct God-gift, that would be God going back on His explicit word. Also, arguments about free will is better etc etc

    I don’t think is the case: God could very easily have prevented slavery without ending free will. He could have made it an explicit command that “thou shalt not own other people as slaves”.

    The Bible could have been far more clear that slavery, as practiced by the antebellum south, was immoral.

    God could have personally appeared and educated all slaveholders on the immorality of their practices.

    The list goes on.

    @Cl:

    Yes, I fully intend to get back to your argument. I’ve read it a few times, I’m almost ready to comment, I just want to read it one more time with a fresh mind to make sure I’m giving you my best.

    I look forward to it; thanks.

    I’m pretty much over [the debate] at this point, and I might even resign early.

    I think this is a good idea. The immaturity of the audience, the bad quality of the arguments, and the poorly defined scope (that is also way too large) of the debate make it very ineffective.

    Vox and his sycophants act so immaturely and so anti-Christian that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously

    I couldn’t agree more.

  51. Alrenous says:

    The Bible could have been far more clear that slavery, as practiced by the antebellum south, was immoral.

    Taking it up a step. Good, but not far enough. Can you think of a reason – any reason – that it might have been impossible to put in the Bible? Unintended consequences and the like? Again, what if it were better that we discover for ourselves that slavery is wrong?
    (Ha, now I want to know how a Christian responds to this.)

    Having God appear is a violation of free will, actually. You must have the opportunity not to believe in Him; that choice is one of the most important ones you ever make. Appearing in front of you takes that choice away, and He’d be responsible for that injury to freedom. Considering that being a slave makes it easier to enter heaven (rich man + needles) and heaven is by definition infinitely good. However, one of the ways God knows if you’re worthy is whether you believe in Him or not. If He showed Himself, would you act piously because you genuinely appreciate piety, or would you act piously because you were afraid of his wrath? God knows, likely the latter.
    That said, God would have to do exactly that to make me believe in Him – I have no opportunity regardless. This is not something that’s actually under my control, and so even if he secretly exists, He is wrong if He punishes me for it.

    Extrapolating from a few things my roommate has said, if it’s in the Bible it was put clearly enough, you just don’t properly understand because you’re a sinner. Sin essentially forms spiritual scar tissue that causes bias and misunderstanding.

    Yes, I did just argue both sides of the issue. I adapted the forking strategy from chess. He could have put it in the Bible – but it was better He didn’t. Or He couldn’t have put it any clearer. And your task is to disprove both. (I can’t do the details of how spiritual scar tissue is supposed to work, but there exists a way it could work.)

    As always, I welcome correction from actual Christians.

  52. @Alrenous:

    Can you think of a reason – any reason – that it might have been impossible to put in the Bible?

    No, but what I fail to imagine isn’t all that relevant.

    This is the same skepticism that cl put forth in his argument, I think, so I’ll respond to it when I respond to his argument, after I have a clearer understanding of what is argument is. (Not saying his argument isn’t clear, I just want to do some extra effort to eliminate further the risk of misinterpretation.)

    Having God appear is a violation of free will, actually. You must have the opportunity not to believe in Him; that choice is one of the most important ones you ever make. Appearing in front of you takes that choice away, and He’d be responsible for that injury to freedom.

    Hardly. This would mean that rocks are violating your free will, because the fact that you see rocks every day forces you to believe in the existence of rocks.

    Also, you’re equivocating: there is a difference between believing in God (believing that he is an exemplary being deserving of worship and trust) and believing God exists.

    It’s really silly to say I have a free choice to say that something exists, because it’s an objective fact beyond my personal control: something either exists or it doesn’t. I have no personal choice in the matter.

    Free will is not relevant here at all. It’s only relevant if God takes away my ability to make choices, and dictates my life for me.

    Considering that being a slave makes it easier to enter heaven (rich man + needles) and heaven is by definition infinitely good.

    Honest question: Would you rather be a slave than free, because it increases your chance of going to heaven? Also, why aren’t you selling all your possessions right now?

    However, one of the ways God knows if you’re worthy is whether you believe in Him or not.

    No, the way God knows I’m worthy is because he is all-knowing, and defined the “worthiness” standard himself.

    If I need to believe in his existence to be considered worthy, then his standard is silly by my standards, because he is punishing me for something that is not my fault: I genuinely don’t have enough reason to believe in the Christian God (or any other god), just like I genuinely don’t have enough reason to believe in fairies.

    If He showed Himself, would you act piously because you genuinely appreciate piety, or would you act piously because you were afraid of his wrath? God knows, likely the latter.

    If he showed himself, I would still act morally because I genuinely appreciate morality, not because I need external punishments like I’m some little kid afraid of time-outs.

    I can’t speak to “piously” specifically, because I have no clue what it means. I do know that I would refuse to follow some of what people have claimed God’s commands to be, such as his judgements on homosexuality.

    Extrapolating from a few things my roommate has said, if it’s in the Bible it was put clearly enough, you just don’t properly understand because you’re a sinner. Sin essentially forms spiritual scar tissue that causes bias and misunderstanding.

    That’s a convenient counterargument that proves everyone wrong no matter what they say: “I’m right, you’re just disagreeing because you’re full of sin, end of discussion.”

    I suggest a different standard: If tons of people didn’t understand what the Bible said, it was not put clearly enough. That’s actually what “clearly enough” means: clear such that people are likely to understand it.

    I can’t do the details of how spiritual scar tissue is supposed to work, but there exists a way it could work.

    How do you know there exists a way it could work if you don’t know how it could work?

  53. Crude says:

    It’s really silly to say I have a free choice to say that something exists, because it’s an objective fact beyond my personal control: something either exists or it doesn’t. I have no personal choice in the matter.

    That’s not really true. You can knowingly take steps to increase the likelihood you believe in something. You can choose to commit yourself to a belief as well.

    Honest question: Would you rather be a slave than free, because it increases your chance of going to heaven? Also, why aren’t you selling all your possessions right now?

    You have to do that to get to heaven? Since when?

    If he showed himself, I would still act morally because I genuinely appreciate morality, not because I need external punishments like I’m some little kid afraid of time-outs.

    Little kids afraid of time-outs are entirely comfortable with doing what they like. Maybe they like being generous. Maybe they like stealing. What’s the difference again?

    I can’t speak to “piously” specifically, because I have no clue what it means. I do know that I would refuse to follow some of what people have claimed God’s commands to be, such as his judgements on homosexuality.

    Why?

    That’s a convenient counterargument that proves everyone wrong no matter what they say: “I’m right, you’re just disagreeing because you’re full of sin, end of discussion.”

    I’m not sure it’s being offered as a counterargument, so much as a position that many can and do hold. It’s viable. Yes, it shuts down arguments, but what – people have to argue ad nauseum? Not that I hold to this position, but I recognize it’s not quite so easily dismissed.

    I suggest a different standard: If tons of people didn’t understand what the Bible said, it was not put clearly enough. That’s actually what “clearly enough” means: clear such that people are likely to understand it.

    Are likely to understand it, if. Such as, if they were sincerely trying, if they were being reasonable, etc.

    This goes back to cases like the supposed civil war era readings of the bible where people – slaveowners, convenient! – are able to read the bible and suss out that whaddya know, whipping slaves you own for life to work on your plantation is biblically authorized. It seems few people stop to ask themselves, were these guys finding a passage that justified their secular desires?

  54. Alrenous says:

    I would primarily like to note that I seem to have successfully used Christian arguments, as measured by Crude being able to run with them without great modifications. This suggests I understand what they’re talking about. Everything else is secondary to me.

    Alrighty, time for the one-point-at-a-time technique. Hopefully I can fudge a little and dispense with a couple side-issues. If we don’t reach agreement I’m dropping them for the time being.

    Would you rather be a slave than free, because it increases your chance of going to heaven?

    Even if I were a Christian, I would find that passage suspect. I can’t see any actual reason/(causation) being rich is a risk factor for virtue, especially as intent is supposed to matter. What I believe isn’t the point, though, my assertion is that Christians can reasonably reject the argument from evil.

    No, but what I fail to imagine isn’t all that relevant.

    If you fail to imagine the valid counter-argument, and therefore think your invalid argument holds water, it is extremely relevant.

    How do you know there exists a way it could work if you don’t know how it could work?

    I don’t know how it is supposed to work. I know several ways it could work, but Christians have a habit of stubbornly believing in things that don’t work, like special pleading on Biblical knowledge – that they know what it says and that it contradicts e.g. evolution. They didn’t in the antebellum Confederacy, so what’s changed since then? Did humans get less sinful while I wasn’t looking?

    For the single subject of debate, I failed utterly on my first attempt. I did find a couple contradictions, though, which I’m now burning to share. Also two fallacies. However, if I were to defend them, the debate will just balloon, so I won’t.

    For my single sub-point, I will choose freedom of belief. I assert that you’re ontologically committed to it.

    If I need to believe in his existence to be considered worthy, then his standard is silly by my standards, because he is punishing me for something that is not my fault

    Crude put it shortly, I will put it twice and at length.

    If you aren’t in control of your beliefs, then Christians must likewise not be in control of their beliefs. You can’t choose to be them, therefore they didn’t choose to be them, therefore all arguments on both sides are pointless. Everyone go home.

    Ergo, every argument against Jesus implies an ontological commitment to the ability to embrace or reject reason – or at least versions thereof.

    So how’s this work in practice?

    You (we – see note*) believe that reasons force beliefs. This is clearly false in a general sense; voters believe all sorts of crazy things, apparently at random. One can choose to follow reason, but it’s hardly necessary or even guaranteed to succeed.

    *Note: I believe that for myself, under certain special conditions, reason forces belief. I cannot generalize this at all. I think I’m going to demand an actual scientific paper to change my mind on this one.
    Details: rocks are one such condition – but it is asymmetric. Putting a rock in front of me forces me to believe in it, but only telling me about that same rock does not force me to disbelieve. If I feel like it, I can believe in that rock based on the flimsiest evidence. Heck, I can believe in things just because I feel like it – indeed I sometimes do for kicks. (Also, disbelieve it against anything short of actually putting it in front of me.)

    The reason I’m demanding a paper is that if we can generalize the belief-forcing, we can probably also generalize the belief-choosing. So I need to see mechanical details to determine how and whether they’re not linked: to what degree I am unique.

    (I only realized the contradiction when I got a bit farther than this; what if Peter tried to prove to Christians that they can’t choose their beliefs? Uh…wait a sec…)

  55. Alrenous says:

    Huh. So, cl, your comment about being agnostic on intuition only just showed up for me. Either that I somehow managed to hallucinate its non-existence until I got the email notification, also just now.

    Though, if they don’t come from anywhere that would mean they’re acausal; spontaneous. I’m pretty sure the ability to be acausal without a special temporal boundary condition is equivalent to omnipotence.

  56. joseph says:

    “They absolutely, unequivocally should, following Jesus’ example. Christians are to undo the works of the sin and the enemy as much as possible. Even typing that makes me realize how badly I fail in this regard.”

    We all do….sigh…but that you think this way is probably indication that you at least care, and I’m happier that you said this than the opposite.

    It seems to lead to a bit of double think though, on one hand death of children from x isn’t evil because it’s part of God’s plan/character building /God will reward them in heaven, on the other, you, personally, are commited to oppose, lessen, fight such “non-evils”.

    I think Tai Chi’s argument about an omnibenevolent God not being capable of producing evil is also more interesting, though I’m weighing it up.

    Won’t mind if you ignore this bit, but it might help me avoid the same mistake in the future. Did I commit a faux-pas in my conversation with Crude, he acted like I picked the nuclear option, abandoned the conversation, enteres his bunker, clised the hatch and wouldn’t take phone calls.

  57. joseph says:

    Enteres=entered, clised=closed. Damn my sausage fingers.

  58. There does seem to be a contradiction between:

    A: As a Christian, I must be personally committed to ameliorate as much suffering as possible.

    B: As a Christian, I think that all suffering is necessary for a higher good.

  59. cl says:

    joseph,

    Did I commit a faux-pas in my conversation with Crude, he acted like I picked the nuclear option, abandoned the conversation, enteres his bunker, clised the hatch and wouldn’t take phone calls.

    I haven’t really been paying meticulous attention to your discussion. I can see why he got annoyed–especially regarding the “it’s a god if it feels like one to me” thing, and I can also see why you felt like you pissed him off. He’s just blunt, which I actually prefer.

    Peter,

    The “instances” distinction comes into play here… personally, I don’t believe that every instance of evil is necessary for a higher good. I am rebutting your POE with a theodicy that I don’t necessarily embrace all the tenets of. Remember? We’ve been through this, so I hope you don’t mind if I’m brief. Let me know if you’d like me to explain more…

  60. Crude says:

    There does seem to be a contradiction between:

    What’s the contradiction? Especially when ameliorating suffering is typically identified as precisely one of the higher goods attained by the existence of suffering.

    Not to be too easy about this, but these sorts of objections sound a little like, “You say that it’s vitally important to take care of the water in this bomb shelter. But if that’s the case, why do you keep drinking it?”

  61. Crude says:

    And, just to repeat a comment I made earlier – with some anal-sounding language just to spice it up…

    Given that any instance of experienced evil would constitute part of a particular being, such that you could not forbid the evil without forbidding the sheer existence of various individuals, it seems to me that any claims that “a truly benevolent God would not permit suffering X” always cashes out to, at least in part, “a truly benevolent God would never allow these particular people to exist”.

    If I’m right about that, I honestly think the problem of evil – logical and evidential – just dies on the spot.

  62. joseph says:

    @CL
    I see.

    @Crude
    Okay.
    You see a person suffering.
    You alleviate it.
    Was it God’s intention for that suffering to build the person’s character? Or yours?
    By intervening did you rob them of a character building experience, and take it for yourself?
    Will God decide to allow them more suffering in the future that could have been avoided by the comparatively smaller amount of suffering, which you alleviated.
    By preventing the dying baby from dying did you prevent them from taking their otherwise guarrantied place in heaven?

    If it helps for the sake of the conversation i will deny the possibility of solipsism, and say that the definition of a god includes sufficiently advanced organic beings.

  63. cl says:

    Not to be too easy about this, but these sorts of objections sound a little like, “You say that it’s vitally important to take care of the water in this bomb shelter. But if that’s the case, why do you keep drinking it?”

    LOL! This, Crude, is why I keep coming back.

    If I’m right about that, I honestly think the problem of evil – logical and evidential – just dies on the spot.

    It does. I honestly believe it’s among the weakest in the atheist’s arsenal, cogency-wise. The problem is it’s strong emotional pull.

  64. joseph says:

    Using my talent for what bossman ham calls meaningless metaphors it seems the plumbing is broken, the water is contaminated with radioisotopes and Christians are arguing that it was part of the plan, it is not a problem, in the long run it will not harm us all the while attempting to make repairs and decontaminate the water.

  65. cl says:

    And you act surprised when Crude loses patience with you. Bossmanham nailed it: meaningless metaphor. More like, “The water is contaminated, the pipes are broken, it was not God’s ultimate purpose, it’s definitely a problem and in the long run it will kill us all, that’s why God is our only hope. Since sin and suffering are not what God originally intended we ought to make every effort to remove them. We as Christians ought to undo the works of sin and suffering.”

  66. joseph says:

    I am surprised, and not sure why he did, I think he gave me one warning, looking back. I’ve offered to retract what I think might be the points of contention. He warned me not to express agnosticism towards solipsism, and i asked him how I could logically avoid it.

    Sometimes I supply counter-arguments to see whether or not you have solutions.

    You answered that one well, fair game.
    You’ll note I do think you’ve nailed this particular argument from evil.
    I think we’ve improved on the metaphor by expanding it.
    I would say on the christian view in the long run it won’t kill us (if you meet various requirements).

    Bossman ham also supplied a lovely article, but wouldn’t answer my follow up.

  67. joseph says:

    You’ve expressed a dislike for echo-chambers, and run this blog consistently (much to your credit), it shouldn’t frustrate you overly when I raise a viewpoint, or objection, that you think is all too easily dealt with.
    You have the choice of ignoring me (sadly as Crude, who I enjoyed chatting to does) or educating me as to why you think I am wrong, (as crude did re physicalism etc).

  68. cl says:

    Sometimes I supply counter-arguments to see whether or not you have solutions.
    You answered that one well, fair game.
    You’ll note I do think you’ve nailed this particular argument from evil.
    I think we’ve improved on the metaphor by expanding it.

    It’s all good. I wasn’t overly frustrated. More like, “Ah man… I gotta explain this again, when I just explained it?” No big deal, but at the same time, not my idea of progress. I only ignore you when your typing becomes unintelligible but I understand you write from your phone so I don’t hold it against you.

    You have the choice of ignoring me (sadly as Crude, who I enjoyed chatting to does) or educating me…

    Okay, well… do you now understand why yours was a meaningless metaphor?

  69. joseph says:

    Yes, Santa Claus may buy me a knew laptop for xmas, if my bank manager doesn’t stop him. Thankyou for the understanding.

    I understand why the metaphorgotten was meaningless, and I have my own way of responding to it, and yet it had a purpose, which was to get your response (I didn’t think it would be quite as aggitative as it seemed, maybe I should have given it more thought, I was aiming for blunt, ironically).

    Yup, I haven’t navigated my way around many of your past articles, I am doing, like I haven’t yet understood your use of the word “instances” in your reply to P.Hurford, but understand you are replying to his POE.

  70. Crude says:

    Just to clarify a few things, re: Joseph. Since, for whatever reason, this is being brought up repeatedly.

    * I was pretty polite the whole conversation, right at the end. This impression is coming out that I told someone to get lost or such. All I did was say, in essence, “Alright, well, we have nothing more to discuss then.” I took a look at what was being said, what positions were being embraced, how they were being embraced, and decided hey – there’s really no point in continuing. Nothing more.

    * I did not warn anyone to not take this or that position. I pointed out what position is entailed by what standards and axioms. No, I was not asked “How do I avoid solipsism?” Solipsism and/or agnosticism on solipsism was embraced, something I checked to be clear on. No, I did not yell at anyone – I defy anyone to show me where I even “lost patience”. Unless losing patience means, “Realizing that nothing fruitful will come of a conversation and politely ending it.” In which case, alright, say that I did.

    * This isn’t me holding my breath, waiting for Joseph to take back his position and so long as he does everything is fine. It’s a little like having a discussion with someone, and they casually fall back on fideism. The fact that they’re willing to do that means there’s just nothing more to discuss in my view. If that option is on the table, that’s that. Going “Oh, well, I want to keep talking, so nevermind I won’t take that position” doesn’t do much for me. It’s an invitation to waste more time, because I’ve already seen what a person’s willing to embrace.

    * Finally, re: good. The point was that, if the experience of suffering can bring about a good, and if the good involves overcoming or ending that suffering, then it’s problematic to object that “well you’re eliminating the suffering! You said the suffering had a good purpose!” Securing the good depends in part on eliminating the suffering, on overcoming it. It’s part of that utility, and that purpose.

    * My own point was simpler. A person who has experienced suffering or evil at some point in their life are themselves a unique good. They are metaphysically bound up with that suffering, such that there’s no way to get that person without the suffering having taken place. To suggest a God allow no suffering, or even not allow particular instances of suffering, is to suggest that God – a God who is capable of providing salvation and eternal life and happiness to any sufferer – should have never allowed certain people to exist. That’s an extremely high price to pay for the goal of avoiding finite suffering. To put it in perspective: How much suffering is it reasonable to endure if, ultimately, you attain eternal life and happiness? I suggest the answer of “any finite amount” is extremely defensible. And keep in mind that “any finite amount” allows for some soul-harrowing stuff.

    * To tie this into Christianity uniquely – consider the crucifixion on the day it happened, versus 3 days later. See, we have the benefit of hindsight. We see a crucifix and we think “resurrection”. But imagine that crucifixion *at the actual time*. What’s there to celebrate or rejoice? The apostles weren’t giddy over that. They were terrified and heading for the hills. But in retrospect, it was a triumph. Now consider that that can apply to every instance of suffering (putting hell aside for now). Whether it takes 3 days or 3 million years doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the dying fawn in a forest, or a gas chamber holocaust, or otherwise. Put more briefly: There is no ‘suffering’ sitting around there in and of itself. It’s always attached to something: To a person, or to a timeline. Insofar as it’s attached to a person, they are a package deal – both or neither, but not one or the other. Insofar as it’s attached to a timeline, then context is in play – and God can change the context in the fullness of time, which wreaks havoc on using it as an argument against God.

    So I see things, anyway.

  71. joseph says:

    Yes Crude, you were perfectly polite, yes, by losing patience I mean walking away, not a bit more. I did ask how to avoid solipsism. Please re-check.
    I have to go out now, do some bits. Bye.

  72. joseph says:

    Balls. Apologies, agnosticism regarding solipsism.

  73. joseph says:

    Here you go, I’ll accept I did not specificy solipsism (doing this on smart phone is bloody hard):

    joseph, on September 24, 2011 at 5:18 AM said:
    “If you’re willing to dive for solipsism or even agnosticism on solipsism to resist a particular conclusion or even treating it as a serious possibility”

    Umm…agnosticism on solipsism…and not dive for but:
    1/Not know how to avoid

    2/Not sure it makes any difference
    It really is not a strategic move, trick etc.

    —and—

    joseph, on September 24, 2011 at 1:58 PM said:
    @Crude

    I’m worried that I seem to have upset you, not my intention. With all these non-falsifiable positions (which I naturally detest, discussing them seems pointless), is their anything more I can do to reject them other than say “that is not my intuition”?

  74. Time to backtrack and weigh in on all the comments so far:

    @Crude:

    Me: It’s really silly to say I have a free choice to say that something exists, because it’s an objective fact beyond my personal control: something either exists or it doesn’t. I have no personal choice in the matter.

    Crude: That’s not really true. You can knowingly take steps to increase the likelihood you believe in something. You can choose to commit yourself to a belief as well.

    If I decide that I want to only hold beliefs that are most likely to be true, a certain methodology flows from that which I must follow with as much disregard to my personal preferences as possible.

    So anytime I consciously choose to commit myself to a belief or take steps to increase the likelihood, I am doing something wrong by my standard. If I want to hold beliefs that are most likely to be true, I have no more latitude to pick and choose my beliefs than I do to pick and choose what is actually true.

    ~

    Me: I can’t speak to “piously” specifically, because I have no clue what it means. I do know that I would refuse to follow some of what people have claimed God’s commands to be, such as his judgements on homosexuality.

    Crude: Why?

    Because it doesn’t make any sense from my perspective, and God hasn’t seen fit to explain himself.

    ~

    This goes back to cases like the supposed civil war era readings of the bible where people – slaveowners, convenient! – are able to read the bible and suss out that whaddya know, whipping slaves you own for life to work on your plantation is biblically authorized. It seems few people stop to ask themselves, were these guys finding a passage that justified their secular desires?

    God knew this would happen, but took no apparent steps to even remotely counteract it. How do you even correctly interpret the Bible anyway? Why are there so many interpretations?

  75. @Alrenous:

    I would primarily like to note that I seem to have successfully used Christian arguments, as measured by Crude being able to run with them without great modifications. This suggests I understand what they’re talking about. Everything else is secondary to me.

    Being able to reproduce what they say does not actually imply any understanding. And it’s kind of annoying to hear the arguments from you if you don’t actually believe them. We don’t actually need a “devil’s advocate” if there are actual advocates here.

    ~

    Alrighty, time for the one-point-at-a-time technique. Hopefully I can fudge a little and dispense with a couple side-issues. If we don’t reach agreement I’m dropping them for the time being.

    It’s fine, but I often see this as an excuse to drop points where one completely lost, and sweep them away as if the loss never happened.

    ~

    Me: Would you rather be a slave than free, because it increases your chance of going to heaven?

    Alrenous: Even if I were a Christian, I would find that passage suspect. I can’t see any actual reason/(causation) being rich is a risk factor for virtue, especially as intent is supposed to matter. What I believe isn’t the point, though, my assertion is that Christians can reasonably reject the argument from evil.

    That statement doesn’t parse well for me; I’m not sure what you’re saying. You’re the one who brought up the “camel eye of the needle” passage in the first place and used it to explain why God can morally permit slavery.

    Better question: Do you think it’s okay to enslave people now, since you would be helping them get to Heaven?

    That’s assuming you still think that slaves have a better shot at heaven, of course.

    ~

    For my single sub-point, I will choose freedom of belief. I assert that you’re ontologically committed to it.

    I don’t think “ontologically” makes sense here, so I don’t know what you’re saying.

    ~

    If you aren’t in control of your beliefs, then Christians must likewise not be in control of their beliefs. You can’t choose to be them, therefore they didn’t choose to be them, therefore all arguments on both sides are pointless. Everyone go home.

    You’re premises are right, but your conclusion doesn’t follow. People don’t control their beliefs, but they do control the processes through which they get their beliefs.

    Now let’s assume we choose our process: “choose the belief that is most likely to be true from a consideration of all available evidence”. This actually makes arguments highly relevant, since we can introduce evidence the person hadn’t considered, or correct any errors in the person’s reasoning.

    Ideally through argumentation, we change our beliefs to be the ones that are more likely to be correct.

    ~

    Ergo, every argument against Jesus implies an ontological commitment to the ability to embrace or reject reason – or at least versions thereof.

    Precisely: I definitely think that choice to embrace or reject reason exists. But once you choose to embrace reason, you have no choice whether you believe “Jesus is God” or not — it either logically follows or does not.

    ~

    You (we – see note*) believe that reasons force beliefs.

    Correct.

    ~

    This is clearly false in a general sense; voters believe all sorts of crazy things, apparently at random.

    That doesn’t follow: people who believe all sorts of crazy things are either not following reason or are mistaken and capable of being corrected with the actual facts and knowledge of logical validity.

    ~

    If I feel like it, I can believe in that rock based on the flimsiest evidence. Heck, I can believe in things just because I feel like it – indeed I sometimes do for kicks. (Also, disbelieve it against anything short of actually putting it in front of me.)

    All that doing so shows is that you have rejected reason. Why not disbelieve even the things you see? What’s so special about sight that compels you, when other methods don’t?

  76. @Crude/cl:

    And you act surprised when Crude loses patience with you. Bossmanham nailed it: meaningless metaphor. More like, “The water is contaminated, the pipes are broken, it was not God’s ultimate purpose, it’s definitely a problem and in the long run it will kill us all, that’s why God is our only hope. Since sin and suffering are not what God originally intended we ought to make every effort to remove them. We as Christians ought to undo the works of sin and suffering.”

    I don’t get it. What’s so good about the fact that we get to be part of this process, if God can just do it? Why does it take an all-powerful and all-knowing God so long to undo the works of sin and suffering?

  77. Alrenous says:

    I do believe these arguments defeat the PoE. Or at least, you’ve failed to show they don’t.

    If it’s annoying, then you’re welcome not to read them. My goal is explicitly not to annoy people, and this goal supersedes reaching agreement. Therefore, my goals would be better served if you ignored me if I’m being annoying. However, I have a third goal, which is to respect your own goals above my own in certain cases, such as possibly this one.

    but I often see this as an excuse to drop points where one completely lost, and sweep them away as if the loss never happened.

    I intend to come back to them. Just, focusing on one at a time. I don’t see any purpose in failing to come to agreement on all points – quit when we fail to agree on one.

    People don’t control their beliefs, but they do control the processes through which they get their beliefs.

    This is false for me.
    Does that mean I’m not a people?
    Specifically, I usually control both.

    By ‘ontologically committed’ I mean your existing, more fundamental beliefs already imply freedom of belief. You just haven’t realized it yet. Summary: since you believe one can choose one’s epistemic justification system, one can always choose ‘what I feel like.’ And then sometimes feel like being reasonable.

    Why not disbelieve even the things you see?

    My control over my epistemology is limited. Some things are instinctual. What’s special about the eyes is that they’re wired directly into my lizard brain, for example.
    Programming is a good illustration. The compiler is always right; it only rejects faulty code. (By definition: you can’t run source, it has to be compiled, which means functioning entails compiling; you can’t compile it yourself.) Eventually, you unavoidably learn this, and it becomes impossible to blame the compiler. (Programming is an excellent way to learn when there’s a difference between what you believe you did and what you actually did.)

    Aside from this, as a matter of fact, reason doesn’t compel my belief.
    Perhaps I have unique neurobiology? The operation of reason is that I perform the algorithm and then see what belief it indicates. I then adopt that belief, or not. I can easily adopt the belief and then run the algorithm.

    If you’ve correctly apprehended what I’m describing, and you think I haven’t adopted reason, you’re using an impoverished version of reason. Implementing the algorithm is inherently imperfect. Therefore, I checked it against things like biases and intuition. I found that intuition is, by far, the most reliable for achieving my goals. Biases are usually just efficient searches, and always have some function.

    (With some exceptions. One: intuition is very hard to articulate. Therefore, to communicate, standard reason is best.)

    Both intuition and biases are reasonable. They perform many of the tasks reason is supposed to be for.

    So it is critical that I have the ability to adopt beliefs by force of will. When reason and intuition conflict, it is almost always because I made an error in reasoning. Were I forced to believe in the apparent reasonable conclusion, I would, bluntly, suck at life. I checked.

    Since I can adopt beliefs by will, it is reasonable to conclude I could believe in God if I decided to. It happens to be empirically untrue for me, as it falls into the seeing-rocks and compiler category, but that doesn’t make the conclusion any less reasonable for people in general.

    Moreover, even if the generalization is false, that means God falls into the seeing-rocks category for them, which in turn means no force on Earth can stop them believing, making all argument moot.

  78. Crude says:

    If I decide that I want to only hold beliefs that are most likely to be true, a certain methodology flows from that which I must follow with as much disregard to my personal preferences as possible.

    Sure, but that’s besides the point – you’re loading up “if”s and assumptions that are tangential. The fact is that saying “I can’t help but believe X” isn’t so non-controversial, because it really seems as if people are capable of consciously taking steps that they know will impact their beliefs in a certain way.

    Because it doesn’t make any sense from my perspective, and God hasn’t seen fit to explain himself.

    So what? I mean, plenty of things don’t make sense from your perspective – and I bet you’d accept them as true. Various scientific beliefs, various historical claims attested to by historians, etc. I’m willing to bet you trust experts quite often despite not having a perfect understanding. If so, why does God get a different standard?

    God knew this would happen, but took no apparent steps to even remotely counteract it. How do you even correctly interpret the Bible anyway? Why are there so many interpretations?

    “So many”? According to who? There’s tremendous agreement across sectarian lines on much in the Bible – should I regard that as suspicious consensus?

    As for “no apparent steps to remotely counteract it” — considering that the Civil War era misreadings are, I suggest, ridiculously clearly misreadings, it seems God actually did “took steps” to counteract it. Nothing’s stopping me from interpreting your remarks here as a recipe for cheese fondue . Is that some indictment of your communication skills?

    To play up on a point I’ve already made… are you saying that God should never permit the existence of anyone who can make an interpretation mistake – whether willfully or due to ignorance? It can’t be “God should have made it clearer” because no amount of clarity can keep someone from interpreting poorly.

    I don’t get it. What’s so good about the fact that we get to be part of this process, if God can just do it? Why does it take an all-powerful and all-knowing God so long to undo the works of sin and suffering?

    Are you honestly asking me “What’s so good about being able to overcome suffering, or stop suffering?” Or, again, are you telling me “God would never permit the existence of any being who was less than pristinely perfect”?

  79. @Alrenous:

    I do believe these arguments defeat the PoE. Or at least, you’ve failed to show they don’t.

    You believe which arguments defeat the PoE?

    ~

    Me: People don’t control their beliefs, but they do control the processes through which they get their beliefs.

    Alrenous: This is false for me.
    Does that mean I’m not a people?
    Specifically, I usually control both.

    No, it just means that if you’re right, my belief about how beliefs work is wrong.

    I still think you don’t have any control over your beliefs in a formal sense. Here’s why:

    I think beliefs are formed by using past experiences to make anticipations about future experiences. Beliefs are all about predicting and modeling the future, ruling in or out what could be the case. I won’t elaborate here because too much elaboration is necessary, but you can read my thousands of words on this starting with the essay “The Origin of Truth”.

    So in this sense, if you are choosing your belief based on personal fancy, you are not using past experiences to make anticipations about future experiences. Thus, using my definition of what constitutes a belief, I could say that you aren’t actually holding a formal belief.

    ~

    By ‘ontologically committed’ I mean your existing, more fundamental beliefs already imply freedom of belief. You just haven’t realized it yet. Summary: since you believe one can choose one’s epistemic justification system, one can always choose ‘what I feel like.’ And then sometimes feel like being reasonable.

    Sure. But if you are committed to being reasonable (trying to use past experiences to make only the predictions about the future most likely to obtain) all the time, then you have no further choice in your belief.

    So you can either choose to be reasonable all the time (and such a choice is strongly in your self-interest) or not. If you do, you do not have control over your beliefs (or at minimum you ideally shouldn’t).

    Since I want to be reasonable all the time, I have no control over my beliefs. So I have no control over whether to believe in God. Does that make sense?

    ~

    If you’ve correctly apprehended what I’m describing, and you think I haven’t adopted reason, you’re using an impoverished version of reason.

    Yes, I do think that, so the next part of the discussion will be interesting.

    ~

    Implementing the algorithm is inherently imperfect. Therefore, I checked it against things like biases and intuition. I found that intuition is, by far, the most reliable for achieving my goals. Biases are usually just efficient searches, and always have some function.

    I can’t imagine what your goals are that intuition works not just well, but best for you. I suppose it’s possible. Do you get things like the Wason Selection Task right? (Not that such things are relevant to real life.)

    If a bat costs $1 more than a ball, and the bat and ball cost $1.10, how much does the bat cost?

    ~

    When reason and intuition conflict, it is almost always because I made an error in reasoning.

    So you’ve never heard anything counter-intuitive?

    ~

    Were I forced to believe in the apparent reasonable conclusion, I would, bluntly, suck at life. I checked.

    Or maybe you suck at reasoning. I don’t know what you mean here.

    ~

    Since I can adopt beliefs by will, it is reasonable to conclude I could believe in God if I decided to.

    Yes. But you could also unreasonably conclude that you can’t believe in God if you decide to. Which is strange to admit.

    ~

    It happens to be empirically untrue for me, as it falls into the seeing-rocks and compiler category, but that doesn’t make the conclusion any less reasonable for people in general.

    Why do you say that it doesn’t make the conclusion any less reasonable for other people? And what do you mean by “reasonable” anyway?

    ~

    Moreover, even if the generalization is false, that means God falls into the seeing-rocks category for them, which in turn means no force on Earth can stop them believing, making all argument moot.

    Not true. You could try to convince them that they aren’t truly seeing God.

  80. Me: If I decide that I want to only hold beliefs that are most likely to be true, a certain methodology flows from that which I must follow with as much disregard to my personal preferences as possible.

    Crude: Sure, but that’s besides the point – you’re loading up “if”s and assumptions that are tangential. The fact is that saying “I can’t help but believe X” isn’t so non-controversial, because it really seems as if people are capable of consciously taking steps that they know will impact their beliefs in a certain way.

    In what way is that beside the point? Yes, I could perhaps decide to take those steps, but that would be unreasonable. I wholeheartedly agree I could unreasonably believe in God, but who would want that?

    ~

    Me: Because it doesn’t make any sense from my perspective, and God hasn’t seen fit to explain himself.

    Crude: So what? I mean, plenty of things don’t make sense from your perspective – and I bet you’d accept them as true. Various scientific beliefs, various historical claims attested to by historians, etc. I’m willing to bet you trust experts quite often despite not having a perfect understanding. If so, why does God get a different standard?

    I can question these claims by talking to the scientists and historians, and often do to a limited extent. For instance, I truly find quantum mechanics baffling and counter-intuitive, so I’m suspending judgement on it until I figure it out. I once thought scientists were wrong about the Big Bang until I looked at their reasoning.

    I try not to accept authority blindly, especially when it is counter-intuitive.

    For God, how do I get him to explain his ban on homosexuality? And why should I be satisfied with no explanation, when the ban seems to harm far more people than it helps, if it could be said to help anybody?

    ~

    There’s tremendous agreement across sectarian lines on much in the Bible – should I regard that as suspicious consensus?

    Yes. Those parts of the Bible are clear.

    ~

    As for “no apparent steps to remotely counteract it” — considering that the Civil War era misreadings are, I suggest, ridiculously clearly misreadings, it seems God actually did “took steps” to counteract it.

    Can you back up your statement that they are “ridiculously clearly misreadings”?

    ~

    To play up on a point I’ve already made… are you saying that God should never permit the existence of anyone who can make an interpretation mistake – whether willfully or due to ignorance? It can’t be “God should have made it clearer” because no amount of clarity can keep someone from interpreting poorly.

    No. I’m saying God should intervene and educate when someone is going to use a misinterpretation to harm people, especially if that harm becomes dire, systematic, and institutional.

    ~

    Are you honestly asking me “What’s so good about being able to overcome suffering, or stop suffering?”

    Are you honestly saying it’s okay to permit or even create harm just so other people have a chance to make it all better?

    ~

    Or, again, are you telling me “God would never permit the existence of any being who was less than pristinely perfect”?

    No, I’m not telling you that.

  81. Alrenous says:

    Peter, your formal/informal belief distinction interests me.

    Indeed, chosen beliefs aren’t formal in this sense. But the idea is to act as if they are, and it’s effective.

    But if you are committed to being reasonable, […] then you have no further choice in your belief.

    The problem is that personal experience is ambiguous on many questions. And if you try the belief-choosing process, you’ll find what’s ‘reasonable’ changes depending on which belief you choose. I do this all the time; I choose one belief, run the reason algorithm, then choose the other and do it again.

    Right now, I’m choosing ‘PoE is false’ and seeing what reason says. When you’re done arguing your side, I’m going to switch and do it myself – regardless of the outcome.

    The formal/informal distinction interests me because of this problem – some beliefs are fully determined by personal experience, such as, for me, the Jesus question. I’m still pretty good at pretending I believe otherwise, but in these cases it really is just pretending.

    However, for others, their experience may be ambiguous, and whether they conclude ‘Christianity’ will be determined solely by whether they initially choose ‘Jesus’ or not.

    Do you get things like the Wason Selection Task right?

    I love the Wason Selection Task. The correct answer is, “Why would I care about these pointless cards? I’m leaving now.”

    When I tried reason, I recall that I got the answer wrong on the first try. Though also when I’m given less-stupid hypotheses, I do better.

    For example I just provoked an LW denizen into providing evidence to defend LW. I also got cl to accidentally defend himself, above in this exact thread.
    I decided around August 11th to get more readers for my blog. I barely strategized at all but the very first post got linked by two of my daily blog-reads.

    Using intuition is like getting free stuff.

    If a bat costs $1 more than a ball, and the bat and ball cost $1.10, how much does the bat cost?

    The correct answer is; why should I care? What non-engineering problem can I not solve without algebra? As I’m not an engineer…

    So you’ve never heard anything counter-intuitive?

    Never experienced a serious case of it, no. Moreover, explanations update what seems intuitive.

    Why do you say that it doesn’t make the conclusion any less reasonable for other people? And what do you mean by “reasonable” anyway?

    The evidence I’ve seen doesn’t entail that other people have seen similar evidence, or that they’ve seen no evidence I haven’t. Second, it is a property of neurobiology and I cannot safely assume they’re wired identically.
    By ‘reasonable’ I mean that affordable-in-practice reasoning processes result in that conclusion. Reasoning that reasonably close to the ideal.

    You could try to convince them that they aren’t truly seeing God.

    You could try to convince me I’m not truly seeing my wallet, and while it’ll cause me to feel pretty bizarre, in the end all you’ll convince me of is that you’re crazy or evil.


    Looks like I’ma have to repeat the one-point-at-a-time refinement.

  82. The problem is that personal experience is ambiguous on many questions. And if you try the belief-choosing process, you’ll find what’s ‘reasonable’ changes depending on which belief you choose. I do this all the time; I choose one belief, run the reason algorithm, then choose the other and do it again.

    I’m going to suggest you’re going about it completely wrong. You seem to only be testing if an idea is minimally coherent and consistent with evidence. I suggest you run that backwards, and consider if you have reason to accept the theory in the first place.

    For a theory, consider what potential experiences the theory is ruling in and ruling out (predicting). Consider how we would test a theory. Then match the theory to a different theory, and see where the predicted experiences differ.

    Example: let’s take naturalism and Christianity. Where do they differ in a testable way? Which one succeeds? In my opinion, you’ll either find naturalism and Christianity surprisingly similar, one or both theories incoherent, or naturalism winning, depending on what facts you have and definitions you use.

    ~

    Right now, I’m choosing ‘PoE is false’ and seeing what reason says. When you’re done arguing your side, I’m going to switch and do it myself – regardless of the outcome.

    I don’t even understand how this possibly works. How do you just jump up and consider a belief to be true? What does “true” mean to you?

    What does “POE is false” imply to you that “POE is true” does not?

    ~

    I love the Wason Selection Task. The correct answer is, “Why would I care about these pointless cards? I’m leaving now.”

    Sure. It’s no wonder that if you dismiss every case where reason prevails over intuition as unimportant, then reason is going to appear unimportant. This says nothing about reason, it only says about how you personally use reason.

    ~

    When I tried reason, I recall that I got the answer wrong on the first try. Though also when I’m given less-stupid hypotheses, I do better.

    Again, this isn’t a fault with reason, it’s a fault with how you reason. I suppose you could just give up, or you could work to reason better. If reason truly doesn’t have any utility for you, then give up.

    But your decision that reason doesn’t have any utility for you might in itself be wrong, with you only getting the correct answer through reason.

    ~

    The evidence I’ve seen doesn’t entail that other people have seen similar evidence, or that they’ve seen no evidence I haven’t.

    Right. This is why evidence has to be shared when deliberating. It’s possible to reasonably come to the wrong conclusion because you had insufficient evidence. This is why knowledge is infinitely provisional.

    ~

    Second, it is a property of neurobiology and I cannot safely assume they’re wired identically.

    It sounds like you’re truly mystified by this group of people who use this thing called “reason” and end up getting questions like the Wason Selection Task correct. What magical powers do they have?

    ~

    By ‘reasonable’ I mean that affordable-in-practice reasoning processes result in that conclusion. Reasoning that reasonably close to the ideal.

    Could you explain this further? I don’t understand it.

  83. Alrenous says:

    I’m supposed to be arguing that one can choose beliefs.

    As far as I can tell, you’ve given up on objecting to that idea.

    I last said:
    You can always choose the method ‘what I feel like.’ This happens to be the most powerful, as it contains being reasonable as a proper subset. Someone who chooses that and just happens to feel like being reasonable all the time is indistinguishable from someone picking reason.

    Even if you do choose ‘reason,’ Jesus is specifically designed to be ambiguous on the evidence – on purpose, by Jesus. The Christian explanation for this itself doesn’t, in fact, contradict any evidence. This means literally the only counter-argument is Ockham’s razor, unless you can find a logical contradiction everyone else has missed. Ockham’s razor is a heuristic, not a proof.

    Ergo, choosing to believe in Jesus is a critical point of Christian faith.

    If you could demonstrate that one can’t choose the method, ‘what I feel like’ and then decide to feel like believing in Jesus, that alone would be sufficient to seriously undermine the Christian faith, regardless of any PoE. However, you’re ontologically committed to believing that one can.

    Moreover, many people may have no choice but to believe in Jesus, because their brains are wired to put it into the rocks-and-compilers category. This is an empirical question.

    If so, the causation is that they choose to believe in Jesus, and then the evidence in favour of Jesus appears to be overwhelming. A Christian would or should say, essentially, that the reason you (we) don’t believe is because you haven’t tried it.

    If you tried to argue me out of my wallet, I would think you’re crazy or evil. (Postmodernists look both.) For many Christians, people who try to argue them out of Jesus look crazy or evil. Further experiments are necessary, but it looks likely that Jesus often goes into the rocks-and-compilers category. If so, it doesn’t matter if they’re being reasonable or not. Just accept their Christianity and get on with your day.

    Because of the rocks-and-compilers category, the falsification condition for Christianity as she is understood is either showing there’s unnecessary suffering or showing that there isn’t.

    What’s your falsification condition for the idea that beliefs cannot be chosen?

    What’s your falsification condition for the idea that the PoE can be definitively answered?

    It sounds like you’re truly mystified by this group of people who use this thing called “reason” and end up getting questions like the Wason Selection Task correct. What magical powers do they have?

    It sounds like you’re truly mystified by my ability to believe things by force of will. What magical powers do I have?

    It sounds like you’re truly mystified by my ability to achieve things without specifically using reason. What magical powers do I have?

    I shouldn’t have to, but:
    2x+1=1.1 Solve for x.
    Even -> red back. Modus ponens, modus tollens. The even must have a red back and a not-red must have a not-even.

    If you change it to a non-stupid example, like wet pavement and rain or a warm grate and fire, the intuition solves it just fine. Sorry, my intuition solves it just fine, but apparently I have special magical powers.

  84. I’m supposed to be arguing that one can choose beliefs.
    As far as I can tell, you’ve given up on objecting to that idea.
    I last said:
    You can always choose the method ‘what I feel like.’ This happens to be the most powerful, as it contains being reasonable as a proper subset. Someone who chooses that and just happens to feel like being reasonable all the time is indistinguishable from someone picking reason.

    I never signed up to argue that everyone must choose to be reasonable. I signed up to argue that, provided you choose reason, you have no choice over your individual beliefs.

    It’s quite possible we each thought the other was arguing different things. Maybe we actually agree. This is why we have discussions.

    Even if you do choose ‘reason,’ Jesus is specifically designed to be ambiguous on the evidence – on purpose, by Jesus. The Christian explanation for this itself doesn’t, in fact, contradict any evidence. This means literally the only counter-argument is Ockham’s razor, unless you can find a logical contradiction everyone else has missed. Ockham’s razor is a heuristic, not a proof.

    I disagree here, but for a reason that is somewhat lengthy and off our general topic. So, I’ve decided to make it my the subject of my next blog essay (to be published Monday, Oct 3).

    Ergo, choosing to believe in Jesus is a critical point of Christian faith.

    Then the Christian faith is unreasonable. And I’m fine leaving it at that. If you want to believe in the unreasonable, that’s quite literally your choice to make.

    If you could demonstrate that one can’t choose the method, ‘what I feel like’ and then decide to feel like believing in Jesus, that alone would be sufficient to seriously undermine the Christian faith, regardless of any PoE.

    I think I could demonstrate that doing so is quite silly, counterproductive, and not in anyone’s interest. Is that good enough?

    Moreover, many people may have no choice but to believe in Jesus, because their brains are wired to put it into the rocks-and-compilers category. This is an empirical question.

    Could you back up this statement? I’m still not sure where you’re coming from.

    A Christian would or should say, essentially, that the reason you (we) don’t believe is because you haven’t tried it.

    They would be wrong. But I forgot they’re choosing beliefs based on what they feel like, so calling them “wrong” is kind of pointless.

    According to you, A Christian could say that the reason I don’t believe is because the cow jumped over the moon. And also according to you, there isn’t any basis on which you can say “A Christian should say”, because that’s using reason.

    If you tried to argue me out of my wallet, I would think you’re crazy or evil.

    Some people do hallucinate.

    What’s your falsification condition for the idea that beliefs cannot be chosen?
    What’s your falsification condition for the idea that the PoE can be definitively answered?

    I don’t understand these questions.

    It sounds like you’re truly mystified by my ability to believe things by force of will. What magical powers do I have?

    This is true; I am mystified. I have no idea why you would want to just choose beliefs by whimsy.

    Also since you do repeatedly retreat to what is reasonable and since you are actually having a debate with me about what is actually true, I think you don’t seriously choose your beliefs by whimsy.

  85. Alrenous says:

    Spoiler: I figured out why the PoE is ultimately doomed. In Christian theology, Good is defined against God. Anything that serves the purpose of the universe is good and anything that doesn’t, isn’t. The simple Christian rebuttal to ‘I see unnecessary suffering’ is that ‘it serves the purpose of the universe,’ and that is a premise that is unfalsifiable without begging the question.

    La Wik also just made me realize that compared to Heaven,
    Earthly suffering isn’t even a rounding error. It’s literally zero percent of all experience. (Assuming utilitarian calculus is valid.)

    I disagree here, but for a reason that is somewhat lengthy and off our general topic. So, I’ve decided to make it my the subject of my next blog essay (to be published Monday, Oct 3).
    […]
    Then the Christian faith is unreasonable. And I’m fine leaving it at that. If you want to believe in the unreasonable, that’s quite literally your choice to make.

    Well yes, you have to believe that because otherwise you’d have to force yourself to be a Christian. And I’ll myself leave it at that.

    Paraphrase:

    Why aren’t you enslaving people to get them to heaven easier?

    For one, it’s not my responsibility to get other people into heaven. Matter of fact isn’t Jesus’ either.
    Second, enslaving is sinful. Jesus doesn’t want me to sin. Indeed what makes it sinful is that Jesus doesn’t want me to do it, and what that means is that the universe’s purpose is less served if I do it.

    A: As a Christian, I must be personally committed to ameliorate as much suffering as possible.

    B: As a Christian, I think that all suffering is necessary for a higher good.

    Not exactly.
    B: Christians thinks that all possible suffering is necessary for a higher good.

    Or put another way: suffering they haven’t been able to ameliorate is necessary for a higher good, and you find out which is which by trying to ameliorate it.

    The possibility of antebellum slavery was necessary for a higher good. It was realized, unfortunately, but also, fortunately, ended.

    Could you back up this statement? I’m still not sure where you’re coming from.

    I’m not sure how to back up a statement of possibility. It cannot be ruled out a priori that any particular belief goes in the rocks-and-compilers category.

    Aside from myself, upon whom I can directly perform tests, any individual may have anywhere between all and none of their beliefs in that category. I have certain suspicions that I’m not unique, but no proof.

    Some people do hallucinate [wallets].

    Arguing with them about it doesn’t make them stop hallucinating. And it would be reasonable for them to conclude the arguer was crazy or evil.

    Also we’re discussing epistemology for nominal brains, not for broken brains, and I can’t speak for you, but I’m doing it because I want the conclusion to apply A: widely and B: to me.

    You believe which arguments defeat the PoE?

    The PoE is essentially an empirical question, and the evidence required does not exist. Principles: you can just change one thing, everything is interrelated; to prove PoE for Christians you have to use Christian assumptions or you’re just begging the question. As such the requirement is to show that, for example, humans could have been disease-proof without implying overwhelming negative side-effects. The project is absurdly expensive.

    This is further hindered by the fact that Christians say sin is the cause of disease, but don’t deign to explain how, which means you can’t work out whether Jesus could have made sin work differently.

    In addition, the PoE being solvable in either direction is contrary to Christian theology, and so begs the question regardless.

    Since I want to be reasonable all the time, I have no control over my beliefs. So I have no control over whether to believe in God. Does that make sense?

    It’s misleading. You don’t have a choice about what you think reason says you should believe. So, you have no control over whether you think God is reasonable.

    How do you just jump up and consider a belief to be true? What does “true” mean to you?

    What does “POE is false” imply to you that “POE is true” does not?

    I can act as if a belief is true. Importantly, this including thinking as if the belief were true, and critically feeling as if the belief were true. I recruit not only reason but my entire brain.
    You’re not really supposed to understand how this works. My statement is that, if you try the belief-choosing process, you’ll find what’s ‘reasonable’ changes depending on which belief you choose.

    They both imply that Christian theology is derpy. This doesn’t accord with my tests nor with the predictions based on the fact that nobody noticed it was derpy for 1500 years.
    The PoE is at least 2300 years old. It being plainly true is an indictment of huge numbers of people much smarter than either of us, who thought they respected reason just as much as you do. And, frankly, if they had a classical education, better educated than either of us. While that doesn’t rule it out, it puts the probability so low it disappears into the noise.

    Moreover I’ve now tested this by attempting to dismiss the PoE myself, and indeed found it’s highly plausible.

    I actually think the discussion would profit by an actual theologian defending omnipotence. I have no idea why Jesus has to be omnipotent.

  86. Cl,

    I just want to let you know that, as of today, I recant this version of the Evidential Problem of Evil for being erroneous and incomplete, largely from information I’ve learned as a result of our (far more recent) debate.

    I am writing a new version of the Problem of Evil that I hold to, right now. I’d be interested in your thoughts after it is done. I also wanted to thank you for showing some the gaps in what I thought.

  87. cl says:

    Peter,

    Thanks, Peter. I admire your candor. I’d be very interested in hearing specifics. That is, which parts of my arguments / rebuttals convinced you, and why?

    It’s funny, because in Mr. Diamond’s rant here, he implies that I only “get away” with my “dishonesty” because most of my “adversaries,” unlike me, are “young, naive, and inexperienced.” Later in that comment he whines about not knowing whether I’m male or female, but if he doesn’t know that, how does he know how old I am? How many old people skateboard? It’s as if he doesn’t even think before he digs into his keyboard. Alas, I’ve already given too much energy to this wolf.

    Here you are, young, not naive, and fairly experienced, and here we are, making solid progress in “real” philosophy of religion. I’m very interested in hearing your recent formulation. Cheers.

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