Debating Atheists: Arrival of Evil (Part 4/5)

By Dan Grossenbach

Understanding evil reveals an important part of reality. As much as we try to avoid it, evil is part of the universal human condition – something theists and atheists both have in common. You may be surprised, however; that the way atheists think about evil actually shows God exists.

Debate Atheism Arrival Evil

For the previous post on part 3, atheist arguments for the Arrival of Biological Information, click here. Unlike other points in this series so far, probing evil touches the heart. It gets emotional. The argument I’m presenting, by contrast, isn’t designed to address the emotional part of the problem. There are volumes dedicated to that. Rather, the point here is to reason through three facts about evil that nearly all people agree on and to see what follows:

  1. Evil exists

This fact is so obvious that even the argument of evil used against God relies on it. Readers have probably heard the “problem of evil” used as a critique against theism. This was something I knew Dr. Shapiro would bring up in our debate, since he’s brought it up in a prior encounter, so I decided to hit it head on. As expected, Dr. Shapiro parroted the classic criticism from 4th century BC philosopher Epicurus:  “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” [1]

The question puts God in a dilemma. Either he’s not all powerful (he can’t stop evil) or not all good (he’s unwilling to stop it). Theists believe God is both all-powerful and all-good thus find themselves having to eliminate one. I address this more later. What we must consider at present; however, is that the objector assumes the existence of evil prior to the objection. This is a huge assumption. Epicurus posed a fair question to the Greek polytheists of his day but is it fair to carry this over to God of the Bible? We’ll address that later. The immediate question is whether or not evil exists at all and this objection only works if it does. Put simply, if there’s a “problem” of evil, then there’s evil.

Seeing the plain consequences of this fact, skeptics typically go one of two ways: 1) ground goodness on something other than God, or 2) deny good or evil exist at all.

This first group accepts value propositions as something real (good and evil exist) but tries to avoid God. Freedom from Religion founder and president Dan Barker says “’Good’ is that which enhances life, and ‘evil’ is that which threatens it.”[2]

Sam Harris defines morality as the “right and wrong answers to the question of how to maximize human flourishing in any moment…”[3] In my debate with Dr. Shapiro, he repeated the secular humanist doctrine that value relates to the standard of universal “well-being.”

The careful reader may see that they shifted the meaning of good. Rather than goodness defined as ultimate moral perfection, they see it as the best way to accomplish a goal. Plenty could be said about this shift, but it doesn’t really matter for this part of my argument. Whether they ground goodness in human flourishing or not, they still have an objective standard. They don’t put it on God, but instead on something else of objective and universal value. Sam Harris urges, “we need some universal conception of right and wrong”[4]. So, despite this shift in definition, they find themselves in the same place in terms of establishing objective goodness. For this purpose, we can join together in agreement with atheists who agree objective goodness exists, right?

Not so fast! Other well-known atheists dismiss value altogether. In Darwinian naturalism, there is no way things are supposed to be. Dawkins puts this best:

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference[5].

An abstract from Cornell University scientist William Provine’s second annual Darwin Day speech starts off this way: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly” One of those consequences, he suggests, is that “no ultimate foundation for ethics exists”[6].

If moral values aren’t real, this disrupts my first premise. There are plenty of reasons to reject the idea that moral values are a convenient social construct, but it’s important to show where this takes us if it were so.

It turns out the denial of moral value just exchanges one problem for another. If the atheists who deny evil are right, then the problem of evil goes out with it. If there’s no evil, there’s nothing to complain about. Saying there’s no evil is different than living that way, however. For most people, this isn’t as far as most are willing to go. Our gut-wrenching feelings on the inside and our outward actions tell us that everyone knows evil exists. In fact, even atheists arguing this objection often find themselves blaming God for the evil they just told us doesn’t exist. While the denial of evil may be something popular writers do, those dedicated to clear thinking on this issue have come to a much different conclusion. They know objective value is only possible with God.

The philosopher who put this most poetically was one of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century who also happened to be an ardent atheist Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche vividly illustrates the absurdity of a moral laden world without God in this passage from The Joyful Wisdom:

“Where is God gone?!” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him, – you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? – for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him![7]

In our own time, atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse puts it this way,

“The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that humans have an awareness of morality . . . because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth . . . . Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory . . . . [8]

The late atheist Christopher Hitchens conceded that it “could be true, yes. That could well be true,” that morality is a by product of social evolution without any objective foundation[9]. He adds, “one wants to think their love for their fellow creature means more than that.” No Christopher, they don’t merely want to think it, they actually do think it and for good reason.

Nietzsche, Ruse, Hitchens, and other like-minded atheists may not believe in God and many despise him. However, they know that without him, they’re posed with another problem worse than the first. Namely, they are unable to account for the kinds of evil that we all know is real. Worse, they deny the very evil atheists typically point to as evidence against God. This argument turns the challenge on its head. We can only make sense of evil if God exists.

In my recent debate, my secular humanist opponent didn’t seem to grasp this. Instead, he doubled down. Dr. Shapiro indicted God for allowing things he described as real examples of evil. The irony here was that he was proving my point. If Shapiro is right that there are real unjustified evils that God was allowing, he’s granting that the first premise above. It’s as if he wants to argue “God exists and he’s really bad so he can’t exist!” He can’t have it both ways. Take it from the atheists, either evil exists or we need to act like it does.

So which is it? Do moral values exist in something other than God or are they useful illusions? We’ve seen how Darwinian naturalism leads to a world without value. On the other side, we’ve seen God’s critics condemn his acts as evil in no uncertain terms. We’ve also seen that a world devoid of evil can’t condemn God for something that doesn’t exist. If true, advocates of this view don’t point us to God nor do they challenge him, essentially making evil a non-issue. Those who blame God for real evil agree with us on this first point, but how far will they go?

  1. Evil entails objective good

By objective good, I mean absolute moral perfection by which all things of value are measured. Evil isn’t really a thing at all. Rather, it’s the absence of something – namely, something good. Just as darkness isn’t anything on its own without light (dark = the lack of light rays), evil only comes about when something good is taken away. For Harris, Barker, and Shapiro evil is when human well being doesn’t go the way it should. Whether we base value on God or our own idea of human flourishing, evil is when something goes wrong. It’s not the way things are supposed to be. This only makes sense if there’s a right way for things to be. Next, we see what kinds of things come with objective goodness.

  1. Objective good must transcend, precede, hold accountable, and value humanity.

Transcending:  First, goodness entails a moral authority which crosses all times, places, and cultures. People groups can’t make up their own values. Instead, value applies to all people regardless of what anyone thinks about it. That’s what philosophers mean by “mind-independent.” The Nazis can’t be just in doing what they did no matter how many people agreed with it. Instead, goodness must extend beyond the individual mind or community consensus to be the standard by which ALL people and cultures are compared. The value inherent in objective goodness must transcend humanity in this way.

Preceding:  Second, goodness cannot have been invented by the first humans. After all, any values established by man can be later undone by men[10]. It would be absurd to think the first humans could come up with whatever value system they wanted because they were first on the scene. It doesn’t take much effort to see the advantage of having lying or stealing as virtues. No, that isn’t an option available to us. Goodness wasn’t invented. It was already there.

Holding Accountable:  Third, there is no objective goodness if evil goes unpunished. As my friend Frank Turek puts it, where there’s no justice, there’s no injustice. When people are allowed to do bad things without any consequences, there is no justice. Objective goodness demands justice. But there’s not always justice in this world. The murderers of black teenager Emmet Till in the 1950’s rural Mississippi never faced trial. The murderer of 6 year old Adam Walsh admitted the killing but was never charged. While in his 70’s Joseph Stalin had already killed about 50 million people (not including war casualties) and continued his genocidal orders from his deathbed in a Moscow mansion. In a purely natural world with no accountability for all people, there’s no justice for all people. If there’s no justice for all people, there’s no justice at all. If that’s not good, then goodness must include universal human accountability.

Value Giving:  Fourth, objective goodness must include the intrinsic value inherent in all human life. By intrinsic, I mean they all have equal worth just for being part of the species and not for any act, experience, or attribute they have or lack. It would make no sense to violate the rights of a human being if they aren’t valued in the first place. Evil and suffering experienced by humans only makes sense if the species has worth beyond itself and that their value is an objective fact of reality.     

  1. Therefore, since evil exists, there is a transcendent, authoritative, human valuing source of objective goodness

Biblical Christianity’s explanation offers a solution that perfectly fits these facts:

  • God transcendshumanity – Job 12:10, Acts 17:25, 28, Col 1:17, Heb 1:3, Eph 4:6
  • God precedeshumanity – Gen 1-2, Ps 90:2, Job 36:26, Rev 1:8, Jn 8:58
  • God holds humanity accountable– Gen 3:24, Amos 9:1-4, Mt 6:20, 1 Pet 4:4-5, 2 Pet 3:9, Mt 25, Mk 9:43, Rev 14:9-11, 20:10
  • God valueshumanity – Gen 1:27, Ps 16:11, 73:25-26, Isa 62:5, Zep 3:17-18, Jn 3:16, Eph 5:23-32, 1 Jn 4:19
  • God isobjective goodness – Gen 1:31, Ps 100:5, Lk 18:19, Rom 12:2, 1 Thes 5:18, 1 Jn  4:8

As I said in the beginning of this post, it’s hard to separate emotion from logic when reflecting seriously on evil. This was a tough one to cover. On stage during the live debate, I had three examples of human suffering in my slide show but by the third one I lost my composure and had to skip it. I know I was being overly emotional in my appeal, but my unexpected emotional response just emphasized the point. Evil exists and deep down we all know it. Christianity might not be what people like, but it provides the best explanation. Dr. Shapiro didn’t think so, but he missed the point entirely. This was most evident during the Q&A when he said “I want to clear up something really fast. Christians always say if you don’t believe in God you can’t say anything about morality. That’s nonsense!”

Nobody ever argued this and Dr. Shapiro is smart enough to know better. The point he ignored that there is no objective basis to ground moral values under atheism. I’ve had the chance to meet with Dr. Shapiro since our debate and learned he considers all morality as relative. So, even when he grants the horrid act of abusing babies as objectively wrong, he still considers it relative.

Strangely, Dr. Shapiro seems to embrace moral realism when he condemns God’s actions, or his failures to act. Shapiro can’t allow for any moral values as real and mind independent since it makes no sense under atheistic naturalism. In other words, Dr. Shapiro might argue like this: Since God doesn’t exist, there are no moral values outside of the human mind. Since there are no values outside human minds, all morality is relative.

The trouble is, I don’t think Dr. Shapiro has followed the logic as far as it goes. As Dr. Shapiro said in his opening speech “It just is what it is.” At bottom, the universe has no meaning or purpose outside of humanity, he said.

Christianity does offer it. It offers a basis for grounding value in the universe, a value of humanity and holding people accountable. Dr. Shapiro didn’t understand the point and furthered the case for Christianity every time he complained about evil. It’s ironic, actually. The very person he blamed for evil – God – is the one we can see much more clearly in contrast to the evil we all know exists. The intellectual dishonesty really showed in the inconsistent demand Shapiro and questioners put on Christianity. They tolerated, even celebrated ignorance on origins of cosmos or biology but demanded to know why God allowed evil. Even if they could ground evil in something transcendent and authoritative, why not find ignorance on that just as “refreshing?” It gets worse.

This brings us to an important rule: the one who bears the burden of proof is the one who makes the claim. It wasn’t my burden to refute my opponent’s unsupported assertions but they are his to defend. I had to provide support for my position, but so did he. No one gets a free pass here.

Dr. Shapiro is fully within his rights to criticize my ideas, but he must do more than rely on emotional reaction and make a compelling case for his view. He gave no case so there was nothing to address. That’s why I pointed out to the audience that Dr. Shapiro depended on a “shock” factor in the absence of sound argument. In addition to pointing out this fallacy, I gave three points that Dr. Shapiro needed to defend for the Epicurian dilemma mentioned at the top of this post:

  • God has no moral authority to do as he sees fit with his creation.
  • God has no justification to accomplish a greater good (and we have enough knowledge to determine this).
  • God could have done otherwise to accomplish a better result.

Even after pointing this out during my rebuttal speech, Dr. Shapiro still failed to provide any good reasons to believe these three hidden assumptions implicit in his complaint about God.  Instead of arguing it, the appeal was to the heart, “How could a good God allow this?!”

As in the other points I made, I invited Dr. Shapiro to present an alternative explanation for evil. Since he didn’t do that, the offer presented consistent with Christian theism remained the best explanation offered that day.

Theism offers the best explanation but it does more. It is so obvious that there are things wrong with this world, that the burden falls on those who deny it. Sitting on a comfy couch with my wife talking about our day is all it takes to bring this reality home. As a federal agent and a nurse, the common question “How was your day, honey?” makes this evident daily. Regardless of where you are in life, I’m sure this could be true for you too.

Christian theism not only explains evil in our world, but it’s the only one that offers a satisfying solution to it. The same God of the Bible whose perfect nature sets the standard for value also offers mercy to people who have violated it. In perfect justice, the crimes against him are paid in full by the only one who can bear it, the God-man Jesus of Nazareth. Clearly, this is something that atheists won’t grant. But you would be surprised what they do say about him. The question of Jesus will take us to the fourth and final point in this short series.

Endnotes:

 

[1] Classic argument for the “problem of evil” first attributed in this form to the Greek philosopher Epicurus

[2] Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith, page 125

[3] Sam Harris, bases his moral standard on what he deems human flourishing,https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/thinking-about-go

[4] Ibid

[5] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: The Darwinian View of Life, Basic Books, 1995, p133

[6] William Provine, “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” [abstract] from speech given at the Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration, University of Tennessee – Knoxville on Feb. 12, 1998https://web.archive.org/web/20070829083051/http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/darwin/Archives/1998ProvineAbstract.htm

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom,https://archive.org/stream/completenietasch10nietuoft/completenietasch10nietuoft_djvu.txt

[8] Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-269.

[9] Hitchens vs. Craig debate “Does God Exist,” Biola University (La Mirada, CA), April 4, 2009, at approximately 1:25 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tYm41hb48o

[10] Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality, p73

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2xAUvhp

 


 

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19 replies
  1. KR says:

    My comment was too long to fit in one post so I’ve divided it in two separate posts, this is part 1.
    .
    “What we must consider at present; however, is that the objector assumes the existence of evil prior to the objection.”
    .
    This is a rather fundamental misunderstanding of the “problem of evil” argument. Pointing out an apparent conflict between two premises doesn’t require that the objector accepts any of these premises. If the theist believes that…
    .
    1) God exists and is omnipotent and omnibenevolent
    2) There’s objective evil in the world
    .
    …then it’s up to the theist to explain why an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god would allow evil to exist.The objector doesn’t have to accept the existence of evil anymore than he has to accept the existence of God. The personal beliefs of the objector on these matters are irrelevant to the dilemma, which only concerns the theist’s beliefs.
    .
    “The immediate question is whether or not evil exists at all and this objection only works if it does. Put simply, if there’s a “problem” of evil, then there’s evil.”
    .
    As should be apparent, this statement is false. The argument (that the theist has a dilemma) does not require the actual existence of evil, only that the theist holds this belief.
    .
    “Seeing the plain consequences of this fact, skeptics typically go one of two ways: 1) ground goodness on something other than God, or 2) deny good or evil exist at all.”
    .
    Then I’m apparently an atypical skeptic. What we have here is a variation of the old false dichotomy of “objective morality or no morality at all”. Our sense of what is good or evil is personal, i.e. it’s subjective. Subjective clearly doesn’t mean non-existent, just that there’s no objective grounding. This point seems to constantly be missed.
    .
    “Sam Harris urges, “we need some universal conception of right and wrong”.”
    .
    I think we need guiding principles for our morality and “human flourishing” or “the well-being of conscious creatures” seem like good candidates. Now, I’m not very familiar with Harris’ writings but my impression is that he isn’t just talking about guiding principles. He genuinely seems to believe that there are objectively right and wrong answers to moral questions. I disagree with him on that point. I just don’t see any way around the is/ought problem.
    .
    Even if Sam Harris were able to establish exactly what moral guidelines will achieve optimal human flourishing (which is a pretty tall order), how would he demonstrate that human flourishing is an objectively good thing? I think human flourishing is a good thing but then I’m a human. It’s a human-centric, subjective opinion. Calling it objective isn’t going to make it so. If there are objectively correct answers to moral questions, these would be facts – and the way we establish facts is by empirical verification. How do you empirically demonstrate a moral truth claim?
    .
    “It turns out the denial of moral value just exchanges one problem for another. If the atheists who deny evil are right, then the problem of evil goes out with it. If there’s no evil, there’s nothing to complain about. ”
    .
    Wrong on two points:
    .
    1) Denying objective evil is not denying that evil exists, it’s an acknowledgemnet that our views on what is evil are subjective.
    2) As I’ve already pointed out, the problem of evil argument only rests on the theist’s beliefs. Pointing out that, from his own perspective, the theist has a dilemma does not require accepting the theist’s views on evil.
    .
    “Saying there’s no evil is different than living that way, however. For most people, this isn’t as far as most are willing to go. Our gut-wrenching feelings on the inside and our outward actions tell us that everyone knows evil exists.”
    .
    Indeed. We all have intuitions and opinions on right and wrong. Since they tend to differ from person to person, they are clearly subjective, not objective.
    .
    “In fact, even atheists arguing this objection often find themselves blaming God for the evil they just told us doesn’t exist.”
    .
    This is incoherent. A person who thinks there’s a god (worthy of blame or not) is, by definition, not an atheist.
    .
    “While the denial of evil may be something popular writers do, those dedicated to clear thinking on this issue have come to a much different conclusion. They know objective value is only possible with God.”
    .
    Value given by a person is, by definition, subjective. If God has a mind and a will, doesn’t this make Him a person? If not, what is He? A thing?
    .
    “Nietzsche, Ruse, Hitchens, and other like-minded atheists may not believe in God and many despise him. However, they know that without him, they’re posed with another problem worse than the first. Namely, they are unable to account for the kinds of evil that we all know is real.”
    .
    We all agree that bad things happen, we just don’t always agree on what is bad.
    .
    “Worse, they deny the very evil atheists typically point to as evidence against God. This argument turns the challenge on its head. We can only make sense of evil if God exists.”
    .
    Again, it’s not a question of denying evil – it’s an acknowledgement that determining what’s evil is subjective. Whether the things we think are bad are caused by human behaviour or the forces of nature, it seems to me there are natural explanations for all of them – explanations that make a lot more sense than the idea of an all-powerful, all-loving God who for some reason lets all of this happen. You also continue to misunderstand the nature of the problem of evil argument. It’s not evidence against God – it’s evidence that the Christian image of God as omnipotent and omnibenevolent seems to be at odds with the acknowledgement of the existence of evil.
    .
    “In my recent debate, my secular humanist opponent didn’t seem to grasp this. Instead, he doubled down. Dr. Shapiro indicted God for allowing things he described as real examples of evil. The irony here was that he was proving my point. If Shapiro is right that there are real unjustified evils that God was allowing, he’s granting that the first premise above. It’s as if he wants to argue “God exists and he’s really bad so he can’t exist!” He can’t have it both ways. Take it from the atheists, either evil exists or we need to act like it does.”
    .
    This still misses the same basic point: you don’t have to accept the premises of someone else’s beliefs in order to point out an internal inconsistency in those beliefs. I haven’t seen the debate but I would guess that Dr. Shapiro wasn’t actually indicting God but simply ponting out that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god is inconsistent with the evil that the theist acknowledges to exist. This is the dilemma and it only rests on the theist’s beliefs, not on the beliefs of the objector.
    .
    “So which is it? Do moral values exist in something other than God or are they useful illusions?”
    .
    They exist as subjective experiences.

    Reply
    • Kalmaro says:

      Assuming someone did give an explanation as to why God permits evil, what happens then? How does one know that said explanation is valid?

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Lots of people HAVE attempted to give explanations. None strike me as compelling and I’m happy to explain why.
        .
        “How does one know that said explanation is valid?”
        How does one assess the validity of ANY explanation? Perhaps start by examining and seeing if it coherently addresses the arguments. To me the universe appears exactly as if no super powerful being is interfering with what’s going on.

        Reply
        • Kalmaro says:

          “To me the universe appears exactly as if no super powerful being is interfering with what’s going on.”

          Is that a fact or just an opinion though? It just seems like an odd statement to make. It. Old be that there is a perfectly logical explanation but you just don’t like it, going off what you said.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            I said ‘to me’ – it’s my opinion. You say it sounds odd but without me knowing why (I guess it being odd is your opinion, not a fact, eh?), I can’t really respond to that. Can you tell me how you believe a Godless universe would appear differently to the one we’re in? The simplest answer to why no God appears to intervene when people cause mass suffering to others is that no God exists. It’s certainly a simpler answer than the tortured arguments people offer for why no God intervenes.

      • KR says:

        “Assuming someone did give an explanation as to why God permits evil, what happens then? How does one know that said explanation is valid?”

        You’ve seen in this thread how we evaluate Dan Grossenbach’s arguments. Do you find our objections invalid? If so, what makes them invalid – and what would you accept as a valid objection?

        Reply
    • Tony says:

      Precisely. You don’t need to believe evil exists in order to point out the contradiction inherent in an account of the world that does include evil.

      All the sceptic is saying is “there’s a contradiction in your account”.. That’s it.

      Reply
  2. KR says:

    Here’s part 2:
    .
    “We’ve seen how Darwinian naturalism leads to a world without value.”
    .
    We have? Do elaborate. You might start by defining “Darwinian naturalism” and then explain how it removes value.
    .
    “We’ve also seen that a world devoid of evil can’t condemn God for something that doesn’t exist.”
    .
    No-one is suggesting that there is no evil in the world, only that this evil cannot be objectively determined. Pointing out an internal iconsistency in the theist’s position is not “condemning God”.
    .
    “By objective good, I mean absolute moral perfection by which all things of value are measured.”
    .
    And this perfection is God? Let’s say I don’t accept a God who allegedly drowned a whole planet or ordered the indiscriminate slaughter of an entire people as moral perfection. What then? How would you prove me objectively wrong? What objective reason is there to accept God as the arbiter of morality?
    .
    “First, goodness entails a moral authority which crosses all times, places, and cultures.”
    .
    That would be a definition of objective morality. Now all you have to do is demonstrate that there is such a thing. I remain skeptical.
    .
    “The Nazis can’t be just in doing what they did no matter how many people agreed with it.”
    .
    The Nazis were defeated because more people disagreed with them. I think that was a very good thing but I don’t see how you can demonstrate that it was objectively good rather than subjectively good.
    .
    “It would be absurd to think the first humans could come up with whatever value system they wanted because they were first on the scene.”
    .
    They weren’t the first on the scene. They were social creatures descended from other social creatures that depended on each other for their survival. The fact that they developed co-operative behaviour makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Humans didn’t invent morality, we just complicated it by inventing culture.
    .
    “When people are allowed to do bad things without any consequences, there is no justice.”
    .
    Subjective morality does not mean there’s no consequences to our actions. All that’s needed is an agreement on what behaviour we are willing to accept and what behaviour should be outlawed. That’s how the democratic system of law-making works – it’s an agreed-upon set of moral rules arrived at by a completely subjective political process.
    .
    “Fourth, objective goodness must include the intrinsic value inherent in all human life. By intrinsic, I mean they all have equal worth just for being part of the species and not for any act, experience, or attribute they have or lack.”
    .
    Value is not intrinsic – it is ascribed by someone, which makes it subjective by definition. In my experience, people don’t put equal value on all human life – they will put higher value on those close to them. That’s human – and entirely subjective. Of course, the law shouldn’t make such distinctions – but laws are established through a fundamentally subjective process.
    .
    “Therefore, since evil exists, there is a transcendent, authoritative, human valuing source of objective goodness”
    .
    You haven’t established that objective evil exists or that value ascribed by God is objective so your conclusion is unsubstantiated.
    .
    “Nobody ever argued this and Dr. Shapiro is smart enough to know better. The point he ignored that there is no objective basis to ground moral values under atheism.”
    .
    As far as I can tell, the same goes for Christianity. Referring to God simply means that you’re arbitrarily designating God’s subjective morality as the standard. What’s the objective reason to accept this?
    .
    “Dr. Shapiro didn’t understand the point and furthered the case for Christianity every time he complained about evil. It’s ironic, actually. The very person he blamed for evil – God – is the one we can see much more clearly in contrast to the evil we all know exists.”
    .
    Again, I find it highly unlikely that Dr. Shapiro is blaming God for anything – that would make him a theist. I think it is you who continue to miss the same point over and over: the skeptic doesn’t have to accept any of the premises of Christianity in order to point out its internal inconsistencies. What you perceive as “blaming God” is, I believe, simply your opponent pointing out such inconsistencies.
    .
    “The intellectual dishonesty really showed in the inconsistent demand Shapiro and questioners put on Christianity. They tolerated, even celebrated ignorance on origins of cosmos or biology but demanded to know why God allowed evil. Even if they could ground evil in something transcendent and authoritative, why not find ignorance on that just as “refreshing?””
    .
    Where’s the intellectual dishonesty? Did Shapiro or anyone else claim to have the answers to the origins of cosmos or biology? Why would it be intellectually dishonest to acknowledge that they don’t know? Isn’t this, in fact, the intellectually honest thing to do? Aren’t you the one claiming that God exists and is omnipotent and omnibenevolent while simultaneously acknowledging the existence of evil? How is it intellectually dishonest to point out that this leaves you with a rather obvious dilemma?
    .
    “This brings us to an important rule: the one who bears the burden of proof is the one who makes the claim.”
    .
    So you do understand the burden of proof – and you still cry foul when you’re held to this standard? Are you sure you’re in a position to call anyone out for intellectual dishonesty?
    .
    “Dr. Shapiro is fully within his rights to criticize my ideas, but he must do more than rely on emotional reaction and make a compelling case for his view. He gave no case so there was nothing to address.”
    .
    Except, of course, the problem of evil which seems to have been Dr. Shapiro’s main point. The only thing you’ve offered as a defense is your fallacious claim that the skeptic has to acknowledge objective evil in order to point out the dilemma. It would seem Dr Shapiro’s case stands.
    .
    “In addition to pointing out this fallacy, I gave three points that Dr. Shapiro needed to defend for the Epicurian dilemma mentioned at the top of this post:
    .
    God has no moral authority to do as he sees fit with his creation.”
    .
    The argument is that the theist has a dilemma reconciling evil (which the theist acknowledges to exist) with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. If you’re now claiming that God can do as He pleases with His creation, you’re just compounding the dilemma. How can an omnibenevolent God be free to do as He pleases with His creation?
    .
    “God has no justification to accomplish a greater good (and we have enough knowledge to determine this)”
    .
    If the justifications for God’s actions are inscrutible, what objective reason do we have to assume those justifications are benevolent? What would stop an indifferent or malevolent God from appealing to the same inscrutible justifications?
    .
    “God could have done otherwise to accomplish a better result”
    .
    Same problem: if we can’t evaluate what options God had, we have no objective reason to assume that the choice was made for benevolent reasons. The “I had no choice” defense also seems a bit odd for a supposedly omnipotent deity.
    .
    “As in the other points I made, I invited Dr. Shapiro to present an alternative explanation for evil. Since he didn’t do that, the offer presented consistent with Christian theism remained the best explanation offered that day.”
    .
    What explanation did you provide? It seems to me the dilemma remains unsolved.
    .
    “It is so obvious that there are things wrong with this world, that the burden falls on those who deny it.”
    .
    I realize I’m repeating myself but no-one is denying that there are things wrong with this world. What’s being questioned is the claim that there is objective evil. People disagree on what’s right and wrong all the time and I never see these conflicts resolved by someone demonstrating the objectively correct position. Can you give an example to the contrary?

    Reply
  3. Andy Ryan says:

    KR goes into all the article’s problems in detail, so I’ll sum it up very short:
    1) The problem of evil shows internal inconsistency within the Christian view of God. One don’t need to believe evil exists to point this out.
    2) One can re-frame it as ‘The problem of suffering’ and avoid the author’s whole issue of defining or recognising evil
    3) The author hasn’t shown that the existence of a God ‘grounds’ evil or goodness, so isn’t in a position to demand atheists do the same.
    .
    Other points:
    “God has no moral authority to do as he sees fit with his creation”
    It is for Christians to explain why God has the moral authority to do as he sees fit with his creation. What moral principle are they using for this claim?
    .
    “God could have done otherwise to accomplish a better result”
    Mankind has managed to wipe out many diseases. Why did God need to create this diseases or at least allow them to continue. Either they’re necessary or they’re not. If free will is possible in heaven, which exists without suffering, then why is suffering necessary on earth?
    .
    “God has no justification to accomplish a greater good”
    A woman gives birth alone in a savannah. She dies in the process. The baby then dies of thirst over the next day or so, unbeknown to anyone. What greater good is being served by the baby’s drawn out suffering?
    .
    “I invited Dr. Shapiro to present an alternative explanation for evil”
    What explanation is required for suffering in a Godless universe?

    Reply
    • Clinton says:

      Evil does not reveal an internal inconsistency with the Christian view of God. Evil exists because man has freewill and man is evil.
      Don’t think so? Take a look around. Examine yourself. Not one of us has gone without doing something.
      According to the Bible, whether you believe it or not, the world was created perfect. Then evil entered into the world when man disobeyed the commandment of God, and everything changed . That’s why are diseases. Man has created some of these diseases.
      NSome bad things happen. I don’t personally think that everything always works out for good for everyone.
      Bible says, all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
      It’s funny to tell the creator of the universe that he has no authority over His creation.
      I guess that means that we have no authority over our artwork.
      It’s also kinda hard to say that something is flawed if you don’t know the intent of the one who created it.

      Reply
      • Clinton says:

        Oh and have you ever heard of being refined by fire? We are being trained for the world to come.
        Within the bodies we reside in also resides sin. Once entered into eternal glory, we no longer have sin residing with us. And further more, Satan won’t be around to tempt anyone.
        That is how we could have freewill in heaven without sin.

        Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “It’s funny to tell the creator of the universe that he has no authority over His creation”
        Try answering my questions. Drop rhetoric and telling me what you find funny – answer the questions. Again, what moral principle are you using for this claim?
        .
        “Some bad things happen”
        Your reaction to earthquakes, weather disaster and millions being killed by painful disease and parasites is a mixture of ‘man caused this’ and ‘some bad things happen’?
        .
        “It’s also kinda hard to say that something is flawed if you don’t know the intent of the one who created it.”
        If you don’t know the intent, stop claiming the existence of a benevolent God.

        Reply
        • Clinton says:

          Well sir, you claim that evil reveals an inconsistency with the Christian view of God. I just showed you it does not.
          If evil exists, good exists. If there’s good, then there’s a moral law. If there’s a moral law, then there’s a moral law giver.
          If there is no moral law giver, then there isn’t a moral law. No moral law means there’s no good. There’s no good, then there’s no evil.
          Two separate cultures. One thinks. That we should help our neighbors. The other thinks we should eat them. Who is right?
          People die. That’s our ultimate end according to you. What’s the difference in dying by a storm, and dying of an old age not having any happiness because one never got enough in life and have a million regrets.
          I answered your question which was a bunch of words that says, ” if God, why evil?”
          I got a question for you. What moral principal are you using?
          According to your worldview, nothing is wrong.
          If nothing is wrong, why do you complain? Why would we try to justify the things we do?
          I know part of the intent of the Creator as He revealed it. See, you should know too because “you have a higher knowledge of the Bible than I do.”
          I did not once deny that death and destruction are horrible. The loss of life is not lost on me. But, earthquakes and weather systems serve a purpose other than killing people.
          God is not so interested in making us happy and healthy and just peachy. He is refining our souls. He has a purpose.
          If everything went well for us all the time, do you think anyone would seek Him? No.
          We would be inclined to think it’s a result of ourselves.

          Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “If evil exists, good exists”
          .
          Your argument is that suffering cannot exist without a moral law giver. You’ve not shown that to be true. In a universe without a moral law giver there could be no suffering? I don’t see why that follows at all.
          .
          Further, your logic rules out the existence of even a hypothetical God whose behaviour you could possibly label ‘evil’. There’s no action or behaviour or philosophy or act of a God that would be so heinous, capricious or cruel that you’d say it was an evil God. Given that, it becomes meaningless for you to describe a God as ‘good’.
          .
          “If there is no moral law giver, then there isn’t a moral law. No moral law means there’s no good”
          .
          Clinton, a few posts ago on another thread you gave a decent defence of why certain actions are bad. You managed to do so without making reference to a God or moral law giver. For example, you asked how anyone could think of rape as anything but bad. The whole argument you made would apply whether or not a God exists. Can you not see that you completely negate that good argument when you claim these things are not actually bad if a God doesn’t exist? If you place that condition on the wrongness of rape – indeed if you place ANY condition on its wrongness – then you’re effectively arguing that it’s not objectively wrong. If you truly believed it was objectively wrong (and I’m sure you do) then you’d think it was wrong in any possible universe, including Godless ones.

          Reply
          • Clinton says:

            The main argument that I made was the idea that if there’s evil there’s good.
            If there’s wrong there’s right.
            But where does good come from?
            Your original argument was that evil disproves the Christian view of God.
            I told you how it does not.
            If we are the catch-all end all, if we are it, then what is good?
            Why should we care at all what we do?
            When people commit these evils what do we do with them? They go to jail. They go to execution. Those sorts of things.
            So God’s heinous acts such as the flood, the supposed genocide, and bad things happening in the world, what’s your view?
            Should we be able to punish wrongdoers?
            The creator and judge of the world, is supposed to allow evil to continue unchecked. He’s evil for punishing wrongdoers, but we can do it, and its perfectly fine.

            There’s something called love. What is love?
            Is it just a feeling that we have that everyone should just be happy in everything they want to do? Or is it that we want what’s best for the person we love?
            If you love your kids, do you let them play in the highway because it makes them happy?
            Do you let them disobey you without any punishment?
            What does love take?
            It takes freewill in order for it to be love?
            Evil, or suffering exist as a consequence of our freewill. God doesn’t want a bunch of robots.He want beings that are capable of loving Him back. There’s a lot of different reasons for natural evil, like earthquakes, hurricanes. Not gonna get into it too much. But it could be judgment, a calling to repentance, a way to bring people together.
            God never promised life was going to be easy. Never promised we will never suffer. As a matter of fact, Jesus said that we would suffer.
            You generally view god as evil when you judge him through your own standard, without taking anything else into account, like why did He do it.
            Unless you actually know the Christian view of God, you shouldn’t make that claim.

  4. jcb says:

    So, the above 2 replies are probably more than adequate. But just for fun, here are my notes on this (poor) article:
    DEBATING ATHEISTS: ARRIVAL OF EVIL (PART 4/5)
    By Dan Grossenbach

    Evil exists (yes, suffering exists)
    This shows that god probably doesn’t (T)
    It is a huge assumption to say evil/suffering exists (F)
    The POE only works if there is a problem, like evil exists. (T)
    Goodness is grounded in something other than god (T)
    Values exist and some value propositions are true (T)
    Dan Barker defines “good” as that which enhances life (T)
    Sam Harris defines “good” as “maximizing flourishing” (T)
    There is a shift in the meaning of good here (F. Each defines it differently)
    DG: they still have an objective standard (F: they have a standard. Unless all standards are objective?)
    SH: says “we need a universal conception of right and wrong” (T)
    We do (F)
    Some atheists claim that morality is universal like theists do (T)
    Thus it is (F)
    Some things enhance life (T)
    Some things increase/maximize Flourishing (T)
    Nature doesn’t value anything (T) There is no “ought” in/for nature. (T)
    People often value things (T)
    Thus Darwin dismisses values altogether (F. People value things).
    There is no cosmic, ultimate justice (T)
    The natural universe doesn’t care, is indifferent to suffering (T)
    Nature has no ethic, and thus there is no foundation for ethics simply by looking to nature (T)
    All these atheists think there is no moral value (F).
    On atheism, there are no values, or valuers (F)
    Everyone knows evil (suffering) exists (T ish. Small children may be unaware of this)
    Everyone knows “evil”, when undefined, exists (F)
    Some atheists say evil/suffering does not exist (T). They are wrong (T)
    Objective value is only possible with god (F)
    God given value is only possible with god (T)
    Some say that morality is a biological adaptation (T)
    Depending on how you define “good”, ethics might be illusory (T)
    Love thy neighbor is necessarily without a foundation (F)
    Morality (undefined) is just an aid to survival (F)
    Morality can be an aid to survival (T)
    There is no ultimate/god given morality (T)
    Some people believe that Loving their fellow humans is based on something deeper (T)
    It can be (T)
    It sometimes is based on god (F)
    It sometimes is based on a belief in god (T)

    DG: there is a good reason that some “actually think (loving others has a deep foundation)” (F)
    DG: The evidence I have for this is… (none offered, paragraph ends!)
    If there is no god, then atheists are troubled because they can’t account for real evil (F)
    (Suffering is due to people who sometimes don’t care, are ignorant, etc)
    Atheists typically deny suffering (F)
    “We can only make sense of evil if God exists.” (F)
    We have to make sense of evil (F)
    If we can’t make sense of evil, then god exists (F)
    DS criticized god for allowing suffering (T). This proves that god exists (F)
    If suffering (real evil) exists, then god exists (F)
    If god allows suffering, then god exists (T)
    Sometimes atheists make it seem like they are claiming god exists (T)
    Most atheists actually mean that (F)
    Atheists usually mean “if god exists, there wouldn’t be this much suffering”, or “if a guy thought to be god exists, and there was this much suffering, that guy would be imperfect”.
    Atheists who believe suffering exists have to be committed to god’s existence (F)
    Atheists who criticize the God of the Bible have to be committed to god’s existence (F)
    Atheists can’t say that god does not exist, and god is bad. (T)
    This is what they usually do (F)
    Moral values exist (T: people value/prefer things)
    Naturalism entails that there is no value/valuers (F)
    Atheists criticize God’s actual acts (F)
    Atheists criticize a being who, if real, and who, if they allowed suffering, would be imperfect.
    If there is no suffering, there is no obvious problem of evil (T)
    Suffering entails objective good (F, if “objective” is related to god)
    Objective here means “absolute moral perfection”.
    What this means/amounts to is clear (F)
    People can have different standards of moral perfection (T)
    Evil isn’t really a thing, but good is (F)
    Evil is the absence of good, but good is not the absence of evil (F)
    Dark = the lack of light rays (T)
    Thus Evil is the lack of good “rays” (F)
    Thus good is the lack of evil “rays” (F)
    Muggers and huggers exist (T). Thus “bad” things and “good” things exists (T)

    The value of All things are measured by one thing (absolute moral perfection) (F)
    Evil only comes about when something good is taken away (F) (never any examples!)
    There is an inherent way things are supposed to be (F)
    People have preferences “I want the grass mowed” and so we say “the grass should be mowed” (T)
    “should” often refers to preferences/wants (T)
    “should” is sometimes used with the word “god” (T)
    There is a meaningful sense of this (False, there is no god)
    If there is no god “should” is always meaningless (F)
    Objective good must transcend, precede, hold accountable, and value humanity. (by definition?)
    There is an objective good that we know of (F)
    Something always holds all of us accountable (F)
    OG means that there is a moral authority for all people at all times, places…
    There is such an OG (F)
    People can’t make up their own values (yes, because values are things we find we prefer)
    The only other option is that “value applies to all people” (F)
    Values are people independent (F)
    The Nazis can’t be just (you haven’t defined just, so we can’t say if this is true)
    Mean people can’t be free of meanness. (T)
    If you are mean, then you are mean, even if X thinks differently (T)
    Goodness must extend to all (undefined, so you can’t say this is true)
    “good” cannot be defined (invented) by humans (F)
    Dinosaurs were not invented by humans (T)
    Values that X has may not be had by Y (T)
    There is an Ultimate/god value that decides between two different values (F)
    Humans “come up” with values. They look at the value menu, and choose (F)
    Humans have values/preferences, and they often differ (T)
    Some value/prefer stealing (T)
    Value is already there, before valuers (F)
    If there were no valuers, there would still be value (F)
    If God exists, then some people are punished (T)
    If God does not exist, then no one is punished (F)
    The Christian god says there will be punishment (T)
    There is sometimes no justice in our world (T)

    If there is no god, there probably will not be perfect justice (T)
    If there is no justice for all, then there is no justice at all (F) (!!!!)
    By being human, you have intrinsic worth (F)
    By being human, you probably will value things, an some things will value you (T)
    Even if no one values you (or ever will), you have value (F)
    Suffering only makes sense (?) if there is inherent value (F)
    Since suffering/evil exists, god exists (F) or a Transcendent, authoritative source of OG exists (F)
    Christianity asserts something false like this (T)
    Suffering exists (T). We know this deep down. (F. We know this from science)
    Christianity best explains suffering (F)
    there is no objective (godly) basis to ground moral values under atheism. (T)
    Some atheists claim morality is objective, and not objective (T)
    If moral values are real then god exists (F)
    Moral values don’t exist outside of persons/valuers (T).
    Thus morality is “relative” in a sense/this sense (T)
    At bottom, the universe has no (deeper, godly, ultimate) meaning/purpose (T)
    Christianity falsely claims there is (T)
    Christianity offers a true basis for grounding value (F)
    All complaints about evil prove Christianity/god (F)
    We can see god clearly (F)
    We can see god more clearly than suffering/evil (F)
    Atheists demand to know why god allowed evil (F)
    Atheists conclude, that if evil exist, then it seems that god does not (T) This is a demand (F)
    If atheists don’t “demand” to know, then they cannot say god probably doesn’t exist (F)
    Not knowing why god allows evil is akin to not knowing what created the universe (F)
    (in the former we don’t know that god exists, but we do know what a perfect being would probably do)
    Everyone who asserts should try to provide evidence (T)
    If God exists, then he is justified in doing whatever he wants (F)
    If God exists and is perfect, he has no moral obligations (F)
    God could rape everyone and that would be morally justified (F)
    A good (loving) god would probably not do such evils (mean, hurtful things)(T)
    There is no alternative explanation for why evil exists (F: b/c of human power, selfishness, ignorance)
    Christianity best explains why suffering exists (F)
    Christianity explains some things about evil (F)
    The false thought that a god will punish bad guys some day is satisfying to many (T)
    God offers mercy and yet is perfectly just! (F)

    Reply
    • jcb says:

      I decided to summarize my notes (and thus the original article). Amazingly, it seemed to boil down to about 5 things:
      Summary:
      Evil (e.g., suffering), persons, valuers, preferences/values exist.
      Suffering is not a lack of good any more than joy is a lack of evil.
      There is no inherent value in the world. Nature (Trees) doesn’t value. But people do.
      There is no known cosmic justice or ultimate accountability
      Much suffering exists, so there probably is no perfect being.

      Also, if anyone has any construction feedback, I welcome it.

      Reply
  5. Steve Baughman says:

    Two points:

    1. I get tired of articles like this in which theists demonstrate absolutely no familiarity with the rich literature on naturalist meta-ethics. It is way easier to use “gotcha” lines against unsophisticated atheists than to actually engage the Simon Blackburns and Sharon Streets of the world (who this author may have not heard of, much less studied.)

    2. It is a standard debating move by Christians to say that the moment the atheist utters the word “evil” we have actually made a commitment to objective morality and therefore God. This is just plain false. This issue dissolves when we recognize that instead of “evil” we could use the unloaded word “suffering,” which is what we mean anyway.

    The question then becomes “Why does God allow suffering if he loves us so much?” In raising this question, the skeptic is not entering into a discussion of morality, but one of consistency. “If you love your kids, why don’t you treat them better?” It’s not about morality but about consistency.

    I really wish Christians would get a little more sophisticated about moral philosophy. This gets tiresome.

    Reply
    • jcb says:

      Steve, you are quite right. It’s rather simple: the theists need to demonstrate a sense of Objective Morality that also pertains to a known god. This is of course doomed to failure (prima facie). Instead, FT and the bunch try to say, “you said there was evil! So you must think (and, this shows that in reality) there is Objective, god given evil!”. Wrong. There is the former: suffering, but not the latter: an existing sense of evil that pertains to a known existing god.

      Reply

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