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The science rule the Christian Darwinist doesn’t want

Semiotic 007 commented at Mike Behe and Bad Design that Christian researchers embrace atheistic notions of science simply as “the rules of the game”, for getting things done. He goes on to note,

Everyone wants science to explain phenomena in natural, not supernatural, terms whenever possible. Historically, there were big problems with investigators invoking the supernatural whenever it suited them. I believe it was simply easier for Christians to join Enlightenment philosophers in cutting God out of the picture than to obtain some disciplined approach to admitting the supernatural at times and excluding it at other times.

Okay, but how come they don’t see the hook sticking right out of the bait?

First, while it is true that everyone wants science to explain phenomena in natural, not supernatural terms, … how do we know what is natural and what is supernatural? This becomes a serious question where mental phenomena are concerned.

Mario Beauregard and I discuss this in The Spiritual Brain, in connection with laboratory experiments in telekinesis:

To say that an event is “supernatural” is to say that it comes from above or outside nature.

Perhaps we should … ask, what is the nature of nature? Can it include events that are not supernatural in the sense given above, but are also not easily accommodated by materialism?

Regarding psi, we can assume one of two things: (1) every single instance of psi is a direct interference in nature, presumably by a divine power from outside the universe; or (2) the universe permits more entanglement than the materialist paradigm does. The second assumption creates many fewer problems than the first. We do not need to assume that every time a middle-aged bus driver beats the odds in a psi experiment, the universe has been invaded from the outside, let alone that, as unidirectional skeptics have often insisted, “science” is in danger or that “religion is invading science,” or that “a new dark age” is upon us.

Research can determine the circumstances under which entanglement can occur above the quantum level, resulting in apparent action at a distance. (P. 177)

But if, of course, we “know” that materialism is true, then telekinesis is supernatural and the supernatural does not occur, therefore telekinesis does not occur – and anyone whose research shows otherwise threatens science.

The “rules of the game” are constructed primarily to defend materialism from disconfirmation!

I would be interested to hear more about the big problems with investigators who invoked the supernatural whenever it suited them. I’m more familiar with big problems when investigators leave out the reality of the mind whenever that suits them. Just one more excerpt from The Spiritual Brain:

Indeed, by the 1960s, materialism was so pervasive in medicine that Benson had a hard time persuading his colleagues that mental stress could contribute to high blood pressure. Mentors warned that he was risking his career when he began to study the physiology of meditation in an effort to understand how the mind influences the body. (233-34)

Get that? Risking his career. Where have we heard that kind of thing before?

Fortunately, the early researchers persisted, and today we have a much better understanding of the influence of mental states on health (see The Spiritual Brain Chapter 8). Nonetheless many today are busy trying to disconfirm the reality of the mind.

Semiotic 007 adds,

I am not at all saying this is the way science should be. I’m simply trying to state why many Christian researchers in fact restrict themselves to natural causation in their explanations of empirical observations.

What they have in fact chosen to do is help the materialist avoid disconfirmation by identifying as “God” or “supernatural” whatever the materialist disapproves of or fears. That includes evidence of design in nature.

I have often had frustrating conversations with Christian scientists who say things like, “Well, when you say design, you really mean God, don’t you, and you can’t prove God, so it’s not science by definition … ” (This is usually spoken rapid fire, like a flight attendant reciting the safety exits, so I would guess it isn’t a new thought that has just occurred to him.)

Whoa!

The Christian Darwinist (hereafter St. Darwin) may be absolutely convinced in the privacy of his emotional life that if it looks like design it must be God (but it can’t be God and therefore it must be an illusion). But I just don’t know. If we have only just begun to consider that design is definitely a part of nature, we are in no position to say things like that.

George Hunter tells me I am an empiricist, and therefore willing to live with uncertainty. (I join the other commenters from that thread in recommending Hunter’s Science’s Blind Spot, which I reviewed here, as indispensable for understanding St. Darwin.

Because, no sooner has St. Darwin finished reciting the litany above than he starts in with, “Look at all the evil and suffering in the world! What kind of God would be responsible for that? Evolution did that, not God!”

(At this point, I get nostalgic. I still clearly remember my five year old daughter explaining to me, thirty years ago, “I didn’t do that, Mommy. My hands did it.”)

Well, I would be happy to leave God out of it, but St. Darwin won’t let me. He doesn’t want to let me because his purpose is to prevent evidence from ever being relevant to his claims for Darwinism or for other forms of materialism. If that’s playing by the rules, we need to change the rules.

Here’s one rule that I want, but St. Darwin does not want: I won’t mention God and neither does he.

Here is one project he doesn’t want: We just look at the accumulated evidence for the history of life on this planet and ask a simple question: If Darwin’s theory did not exist and was not now the subject of a huge academic industry, would anyone suppose that it explained the Cambrian explosion? The subsequent punctuated history of life? The rise of consciousness?

Darwin’s theory is supported in order to prop up materialism, and otherwise has very little use.

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39 Responses to The science rule the Christian Darwinist doesn’t want

  1. A few points:

    1-

    In any case, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, debate about methodological rules of science often forms part of the practice of science, especially during times when established paradigms are being challenged. Those who reject the “teach the controversy” model on the grounds that ID violates the current rules of scientific practice only beg the question. The present regime of methodological rules cannot prevent the controversy for the simple reason that those rules may themselves be one of the subjects of scientific controversy.

    page xxv of Darwinism, Design and Public Education

    2- Natural processes only exist in nature and therefore cannot be responsible for the origin of nature- and everyone knows that it matters a great deal to any investigation how something came to be (its origins).

    3- Both “deisgn” and “intelligence” exist in nature and therefore are natural.

    And if the designer is “God”, so what? That should not matter if science is interested in reality.

    see also:

    If the Designer is God, so what

    and

    Does the Designer have to be God

  2. Christian researchers embrace atheistic notions of science simply as “the rules of the game”

    I don’t think the problem is playing by “the rules of the game” i.e. investigating an event with the assumption that there is a natural cause (or can be understood via natural means) especially since there is no point in the investigation if the cause is not.

    What the problem is, I think, is an establishment that is no longer playing by the rules (i.e. they are cheating) by making claims that certain things are proven/true/established when they are clearly not.

    Further, they are trying to intefer with the investigations of those who are playing by the rules using means clearly prohibited by the rules.

  3. Another thing to consider (and to which to object) is the claim that “science” is the final authority.

    It is essential to insist that “right and wrong” are things that transcend what can be measured.

  4. An interesting, and related, link “God and geeks: Vatican astronomer hunts for faith in Silicon Valley” at http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....0446/posts

  5. “We just look at the accumulated evidence for the history of life on this planet and ask a simple question: If Darwin’s theory did not exist and was not now the subject of a huge academic industry, would anyone suppose that it explained the Cambrian explosion? The subsequent punctuated history of life? The rise of consciousness?”

    Even more evidences can be added. If, hypothetically, we had remained an essentially theistic society, and if we had all present knowledge about the cosmological anthropic coincidences, the biological anthropic coincidences (as beautifully described in “Nature’s Destiny” by Denton), CSI in the genome, IC in cellular nanomachinery, the common sense notion that since computers don’t need to be conscious to operate, then calling our brains neurological computers cannot possibly explain our own consciousness, etc, etc–if we had all these evidences and weren’t held captive by atheistic ideology, would any sane person have even come up with Darwinism as a hypotheses worthy of consideration?

  6. [...] often, so I’ll provide a link back. You really should read this post at Uncommon Descent: The Science Rule the Christian Darwinist Forgot by Denyse O’Leary. She concludes: Here is one project he doesn’t want: We just look at the [...]

  7. I suppose it depends on what you think the Darwinian hypothesis is. One approach:

    (1) weak Darwinism: variation and selection are individually necessary to explain biological phenomena (e.g. anatomical diversity, form-to-function fitness, geographical distribution).

    (2) strong Darwinism: variation and selection are individually necessary and jointly sufficient to explain biological phenomena.

    In these terms, Darwin himself is a “weak Darwinist,” whereas Dawkins is a “strong Darwinist.” (I say this because Darwin himself claims that natural selection is not the only mechanism, but only one of the more important ones.)

    Presumably the only people who deny “weak Darwinism” are those who believe in special creation (i.e. creation of ‘kinds’). There’s still a lot of room with respect to “weak Darwinism” — intelligent design being one approach, self-organization theory (e.g. Kauffman, Goodwin) being another.

    I would guess that if intelligent design is compatible with weak Darwinism, a design theorist can still give kudos to Darwin for having discovered a mechanism that no one had noticed before. Even if design theory is vindicated and strong Darwinism is defeated, Darwin himself still deserves a place in the history books along side Newton (who has also been superseded but still respected for his accomplishments).

  8. “Because, no sooner has St. Darwin finished reciting the litany above than he starts in with, “Look at all the evil and suffering in the world! What kind of God would be responsible for that? Evolution did that, not God!””

    This is actually the ancient theological problem of evil, as utilized by Darwinists. Of course this is invalid as an argument against some form of ID, but the basic Problem of Evil has not really been answered in any satisfactory way. There is overwhelming evidence for an Intelligence behind nature, despite the intransigence of the problem of evil.

    So in order to avoid disturbing conclusions, it is best to separate the two subjects in the mind, to deliberately entertain a major cognitive dissonance. In the first area (ID, anthropic principles, etc.) use an empirical approach. In the second area a faith based approach is better.

  9. Two comments that deserve an “Amen”:

    1. The “rules of the game” are constructed primarily to defend materialism from disconfirmation!

    That’s why theistic evolutionists are tolerated, whereas ID, no matter how far removed from the Bible or any other holy book, must be fought by any means, fair or foul. It doesn’t matter how much Behe may protest that he does not base his theory on holy books, or that he accepts common descent. He says materialism cannot explain life, and so he must be villified (they can’t make him go). It doesn’t matter that Guillermo Gonzalez doesn’t even challenge abiogenesis, let alone evolution. He challenges the ability of materialism to explain the universe, and so he must go.

    Anything said about ID is justified. It doesn’t matter whether there are clear distinctions between ID and traditional creationism. One can continue to call ID creationism in a cheap tuxedo, because it works, and anything is permitted in the fight against ID, because it is heresy. It’s a good thing that the government is not run by these people, or we could have an Inquisition all over again. There are some who explicitly want one; they say that children should be removed from parents if they persist in teaching them what they consider nonsense.

    But be of good cheer. The Inquisition passed, and this will too.

    2. Here’s one rule that I want, but St. Darwin does not want: I won’t mention God and neither does he.

    We need to start by proclaiming that rule, and pointing out that if they violate it they are fighting a religion versus science battle, with them being on the religion side. Then we need to call them to account every time they violate that rule. The fact of the matter is that we can win on points every time if they are not allowed to cheat. Some of them know this, and the rest should find it out.

  10. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that anything along the lines of

    Look at all the evil and suffering in the world! What kind of God would be responsible for that? Evolution did that, not God!

    has got to be completely befuddled and boneheaded.

    The heart of the problem here was identified by Kant (though Hume also got it): even if there’s good reason to think that some intelligent being is responsible for observed complexity, there’s no good reason to think that such being is God. At most “the argument from design” tells us that God could exist.

    (Kant calls the argument from design, or “physico-theological argument,” a “propadeutic” for accepting the existence of God but not itself an argument for that claim.)

    Likewise, observation of “natural evil” (a category I find, frankly, of dubious value) is no objection to design theory, since design theory doesn’t — and, it seems to me, cannot — rule out the possibility that the intelligent designer could be precisely the kind of being that derives a perverse pleasure from watching wasp larvae devour a caterpillar from the inside out.

    This point is, by the way, nicely echoed by one that Dembski himself makes over and over again — that one of the main differences between contemporary design theory and the older “argument from design” is that the latter is supposed to work as a proof that God actually exists, and the former is not.

    If that much is correct, then perhaps what one ought to say, as a design theorist, is that science itself cannot show that God does exist, but that it can show — whereas Darwinism cannot — that God could exist — as could any number of other intelligent beings provided they had the minimal degree of intelligence and power necessary to program the instruction manuals for the first single-celled organisms, and perhaps ‘tweak’ as necessary for the introduction of major biological innovations (e.g. multicellularity, proliferation of cell types, take your pick).

    In any event, design theory by itself cannot tell us anything about the moral or aesthetic attributes of the designer(s), which is — I would imagine — is what is of greatest importance to people of faith. While design theory may show that the designer has enormous power and intelligence, it cannot show that the intelligent designer has infinite grace and compassion.

  11. I’m sorry, but as a student of philosophy and someone who has studied theology, I think there are very good answers to the problem of evil. Here’s mine:

    Would you like God to wipe out all evil? Would you like Him to start with you?

  12. Carl Sachs,

    Thanks for the point of clarification. I was referring to strong Darwinism in my post, which I’d probably change to read “Would any sane person have even come up with the idea of the Darwinistic mechanism as an all-sufficient explanation?”

    The Darwinist explanation was introduced at a time when there was vastly less detailed scientific knowledge in general, rendering the explanation sufficiently plausible for acceptance. It now survives due mainly to historical and institutional inertia. The current overarching neo-Darwinistic evolutionary paradigm simply would not arise de novo based on current evidence, IMHO.

  13. Carl Sachs,

    Depending on precisely how you define it, many people who might be called special creationists believe in weak Darwinism. They believe that in most cases variation up to the family level can be mostly if not completely explained by random mutations and natural selection. Weak Darwinism is actually fairly well accepted even in the YEC community. Strong Darwinism is another matter.

  14. Carl Sachs, I like your definitions of weak and strong Darwinism. I also fully agree with you that, because the vast majority of IDers are clearly “weak Darwinists”, Darwin deserves kudos from the ID community. I would surely agree that natural selection plays a significant role in maintaining the quality and balance of life. Alas, it is clear that the majority of IDers are more accurately defined as ID evolutionists than ID creationists.

  15. geoff

    Would you like God to wipe out all evil? Would you like Him to start with you?

    that’s how I see it;
    to a perfect creator, any deviation of the slightest is already evil; permitting any means permitting all;
    it’s just a matter of degree;

  16. All:

    The song/weak Darwinism terminology is essentially equivalent to micro-vs Macro- evolution, with the addition that under the full NDT, macro-evo is held to account for the claimed observed common descent.

    The information gap that ID highlights comes up at the body-plan level macro-evo level.

    As Meyer aptly summarised, on the Cambrian life revolution, in that famous PBSW paper:

    In order to explain the origin of the Cambrian animals, one must account not only for new proteins and cell types, but also for the origin of new body plans . . . Mutations in genes that are expressed late in the development of an organism will not affect the body plan. Mutations expressed early in development, however, could conceivably produce significant morphological change (Arthur 1997:21) . . . [but] processes of development are tightly integrated spatially and temporally such that changes early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream. For this reason, mutations will be much more likely to be deadly if they disrupt a functionally deeply-embedded structure such as a spinal column than if they affect more isolated anatomical features such as fingers (Kauffman 1995:200) . . . McDonald notes that genes that are observed to vary within natural populations do not lead to major adaptive changes, while genes that could cause major changes–the very stuff of macroevolution–apparently do not vary. In other words, mutations of the kind that macroevolution doesn’t need (namely, viable genetic mutations in DNA expressed late in development) do occur, but those that it does need (namely, beneficial body plan mutations expressed early in development) apparently don’t occur.6

    GEM of TKI

  17. PS: On the problem of evil, let us note this was discussed in an earlier thread, the 29th October Atheism thread, of which this is derivative.

    I note to es58, that the issue is not to be taken in isolation from the comparative difficulties framework of philosophy.

    So — after reckoning with Plantinga’s successful free-will defense on the deductive and inductive forms of the problem of evil and on the import of the approach to addressing existential evil through comforting, healing and transforming encounter with God that we see say in Job — we need to also reckon with the import of the fact of good and evil, i.e. morality.

    Koukl gives an excellent introduction to that. here is the closing summary:

    The argument against God based on the problem of evil can only be raised if some form of moral objectivism is true. Morals, therefore, exist. I need not give a complete taxonomy of ethical guidelines to make my case. If there is even one moral absolute, it invites the question, “What kind of world view explains the existence of this moral rule?”

    Atheism can’t make any sense of it. Neither can most Eastern religions. If reality is an illusion, as they hold, then the distinction between good and evil is ultimately rendered meaningless. Something like the Judeo-Christian or Muslim idea of God must be true to adequately account for moral laws.

    Morality grounded in God explains our hunger for justice–our desire for a day of final reckoning when all wrongs are made right, when innocent suffering is finally redeemed, when all the guilty are punished and the righteous are rewarded.

    This also explains our own personal sense of dread. We feel guilty because we are guilty. We know deep down inside that we have offended a morally perfect being who has the legitimate authority to punish us. We also know we will have to answer for our own crimes against God.

    In the end, we’re forced to accept one of two alternatives. Either relativism is true or morality is true. Either we live in a universe in which morality is a meaningless concept and are forever condemned to silence regarding the problem of evil, or moral rules exist and we’re beholden to a moral God who holds us accountable to His law. [please read how he runs up to this summary!]

    Going beyond this, once we see a God creating creatures capable of virtue, that implies creatures capable of choice thus selfish and destructive — i.e. evil choice. But, that is compatible with opening up a world in which there is a qualitative increment in good so allowing evil may indeed serve the ultimate cause of good.

    And, Geoff raises a very valid issue: redemption vs wiping out evil all at once starting with us.

    If God, through love for even alienated creatures, is cooperating with us in the process of eradicating evil — in the Christian view [principally under attack through this challenge] taking its sting deep into his own being thus giving to us a restoration and healing — and this takes time and effort and pain, those pains are not gratuitous.

    Next, on natural evils, much of the issue revolves on the implications of an orderly world in which actions have reliable consequences, i.e a world of stable laws. Natural evils may be secondary effects of having an orderly rather than chaotic world, especially under circumstances that may connect to choices that agents have made.

    [For instance, had many warnings over decades since the 1930's been heeded, Montserrat would not have been so vulnerable to volcanic disaster that wiped out the central node in which essentially all the key infrastructure was built -- putting all the eggs in one known vulnerable basket. The same holds for New Orleans in the run-up to Katrina.]

    Behe extends the argument in his Amazon Blog’s three-part discussion on Miller’s critique of his views on common descent:

    [having first addressed the core difference betweeen himself and Miller -- the extent of design and finetuning, in the scientific context, he now turns tot he worldviews issues] . . . as a theist one can make an argument that what strikes us as evil in nature is part of a larger whole which is good. In his recent book Francisco Ayala wrote that one could regard tsunamis as the unintended side effect of a good process (plate tectonics) which is necessary to build a habitable world. Well, heck, one can make the same argument for parasites and viruses. It may well be that such seemingly vile creatures actually play positive roles in the economy of biology, of which we are in large part unaware. If that’s the case, then directly designing parasites and viruses is as defensible in terms of the overall goodness of nature as is designing the processes of plate tectonics. The fact that they are dangerous to humans is an unintended side effect of something that is good in itself.

    What’s more, there can be just about as much real contingency and freedom in nature in the extended fine tuning view as in the view of theistic evolutionists of the Ayala/Miller stripe.

    At least, worth a thought or two.

    GEM of TKI

  18. Denyse,

    A proper response to your proper response would be a book, I’m afraid. Sorry I can’t do that.

    For several decades, the standard “outside reading” on the philosophy of science was The Game of Science, by McCain and Segal. Many people like me mention “the rules of the game” in allusion to that book. If you really want to understand where we’re coming from, I recommend you read it. The 3rd edition is now terribly out-of-date (1988), but it’s still worth reading, if only to get ammo.

    No belief system — and science, in one one sense of the term, is a belief system — can proceed without initial assumptions. A belief system cannot show its own assumptions wrong. Only epi-science can lead to revision of the assumption that science must proceed by methodological naturalism.

    On now to what I think is the heart of your response:

    Here’s one rule that I want, but St. Darwin does not want: I won’t mention God and neither does he.

    Find a Christian evolutionist who refers to God in a peer-reviewed article. Science is a least-common- denominator belief system. There’s a lot more to Christians, as human beings, than passes through the filter of science. Christian scientists like to talk about their reconciliation of science and faith just as Phil Johnson liked to talk about the damage naturalism was doing to the fabric of Western civilization. Nobody ever thought Johnson’s Darwin on Trial was a legal tome. Surely there’s no mistaking scientists talking about God, the universe, and all that as doing science.

    Here is one project he doesn’t want: We just look at the accumulated evidence for the history of life on this planet and ask a simple question: If Darwin’s theory did not exist and was not now the subject of a huge academic industry, would anyone suppose that it explained the Cambrian explosion? The subsequent punctuated history of life? The rise of consciousness?

    To pose these questions is totally in line with Kuhn. Certainly established paradigms want not to die. But they do, and the reason, ultimately, is that all scientific explanations are tentative. The history of science says that if there is too much evidence the present paradigm does not account for, there will be a paradigm shift. I must add that it did not take political action to get Einsteinian mechanics accepted when the “entrenched scientific establishment” had “propped up” Newtonian mechanics for 200 years. Ironically, many Christians resisted the “truth” (superior explanatory power) of relativity.

    Darwin’s theory is supported in order to prop up materialism, and otherwise has very little use.

    I can’t buy it. Virtually every Christian researcher nowadays is going to emphasize methodological naturalism, as in “I don’t believe it’s actually so, but I proceed as though it were.”

    I’m going to have to duck out of this discussion and do a bit more of what I know a bit more about how to do. Thanks for the reply.

  19. kairosfocus, I am aware of Plantinga’s reasoning primarily from free will, which is certainly ingenious. It is a good argument for the existence of human-caused evil in a God-created world. It is not so good for “natural evil” – innocent suffering caused simply by the natural world.

    The argument in this case mainly boils down to the notion that the features of the natural world causing innocent suffering such as disease, parasites, birth defects, earthquakes, landslides, etc. etc. are somehow necessary as part of a natural order that permits human life to exist at all. The individual suffers for the greater good. This form of evil is held to be necessary that humanity exist in a limited environment which forces him to strive toward God.

    This is very weak for two reasons. First, it assumes strict limits to God’s powers. Surely, a natural world containing many challenges but without horrible scourges such as bubonic plague, typhoid and malaria should be at least possible without undoing all of biology. Second, this makes the unwarranted assumption that innocent unchosen suffering can even possibly be justified by it having some higher meaning. The ultimate experiential badness of suffering in itself can only be legitimized by being freely chosen by the sufferer. If it is involuntarily imposed by another it is inherently morally wrong. Disagree?

    The problem therefore has not been satisfactorily addressed. A quote from the conclusions paragraph of your Plantinga reference clearly indicates this:

    “On the other side, the problem of evil is a very powerful difficulty for theism. However, Plantinga’s free will defense has clearly brought about a major shift in the terms of such a discussion. Specifically, even leading atheologians have now had to concede that the deductive form of the problem of evil, fails to demonstrate that theism is self contradictory in a world that contains evil.”

    Certainly so. The “problem of evil” does not constitute a valid argument against the existence of a deity, as shown by Plantinga and others. There are many important rational and empirical reasons for belief in a God behind nature, that are not overcome by the problem of evil. But this problem does have strong implications as to the nature of this deity and its powers.

  20. Magnan:

    In a rush just now.

    Please cf my linked summary.

    Plantinga takes on the challenge that the existence of evil constitutes a core for a deductive proof that God does not exist. By showing that it is logically possible for God to be (as he is generally understood) and that we can have a world in which evil exists in a context of a greater good that emerges therefrom, he overturns the Mackie-type deductive argument. He is also able to provide a base for addressing the inductive form of the problem.

    He is NOT laying out a theodicy, and so his case is not vulnerable to objections that may be effective against theodicy-type arguments. (Cf my summary on this.)

    Please do not tilt at a strawman; I have seen too many dismissal attempts on this argument that fall into this trap.

    On the issue of natural evil, he incorporates it into his defense, successfully on its own terms.

    On the broader question of natural evils, there are several approaches, but all has to be seen in light of the comparative difficulties of major options.

    Above, I have cited Koukl on some of this, showing that the evolutionary materialism that is often so dominant in the West runs into serious difficulties so soon as it poses the problem of evil as a challenge to theism. [Similar difficulties obtain for pantheistic monist systems, as Koukl briefly mentions.]

    Theistic, materialistic and pantheistic systems between them take in much of the major territory on alternative worldviews and the challenges they face.

    In that COMPARATIVE difficulties context, as Koukl shows at introductory level, theistic views clearly win and hold the field, starting with the very act of posing the problem and what it assumes or implies.

    Then, we may address specific aspects of the problem, and in that context what Behe has to say is worth at least listening to. And, these problems are not sufficient to successfully arraign God on the charge of not being good, or not being adequately powerful or wise.

    (Think about a world in which love is possible, and see if that does not automatically imply that creatures capable of love can and may decide to act out of vice not virtue; by the very nature of love as a virtue resting on a decision. And think about what is entailed in the idea that a world without the possibility of love is a world that has a superior goodness to a world in which love is possible. Then extend that to the rest of the core virtues.)

    GEM of TKI

  21. In what context does a wasp devouring a caterpillar larvae become not only a sign of “evil” but a synecdoche for the supposed depravity of all nature? Only in the context of rebellion, for two reasons.

    First, nature is not a series of random, unrelated accidents but an integrated whole. Those of us who live in the Northeast are quite grateful for the “evil” of the little wasp that spares our forests from destruction by gleefully consuming such larvae.

    Additionally, the apparent “evil” of the act itself may be nothing more than a pathetic fallacy. The revealed definition of evil is that which is contrary to love. Caterpillar larvae are not capable of love or emotion of any kind; therefore the distraught posturing seen in some circles over their demise may involve a degree of over-identification.

    The second reason is that the synecdoche is unbalanced. A fair accounting would include, for example, the spectacular transformation seen in the larvae itself. It would include the creative excellence evident in the cell, in photosynthesis, in the way the body protects itself from traumatic injury, in complementary systems like the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems—even in something as seemingly simple as water.

    Is all of this “evil”? If not, then why is the apparent evil of the omnivorous wasp so often permitted to stand for the whole?

    Is it possible that the message of Job still has not been understood? We now know that bacteria are not “evil’ per se; indeed, they are necessary to good health. We also know that there are deleterious bacteria in the human body. Finally we know that an ingenious balance seems to have been struck between these two forces to preserve life.

    Do these facts cause us to imagine we have a right to question the justice of God? If we see nothing but evil in nature, then this is what we want to see. This is the viewpoint that justifies our high opinion of ourselves and our critical powers. But God cannot be blamed for the vanity of the world and its self-appointed philosophers.

  22. I used to teach marketing at a university business school. In trying to teach the concept of product benefits for product development and subsequent marketing communication (sales, advertising, pr etc.) I stumbled upon what I consider an aspect of the problem of evil.

    As instances of what has been considered evil in life get solved, through such things as sanitation, flood control, medicine etc, we tend to focus on solutions on less mundane aspects of life that cause concern. Since a lot of the big stuff has been mainly solved in the developed world, people focus on what would have been considered lesser problems. And as we solve these problems the focus gets on what would have been more mundane issues a generation or two ago.

    Could anyone here imagine people worrying over the fate of a caterpillar under the control of a wasp when their children or family members are dying of plague or dysentery. Or the people during the depression worrying about the fate of the snail darter.

    As we get more affluent and more effective at controlling our environment, what was seen as minor annoyances will take on enormous proportions to many in our society. We used to worry about whether our new born baby was healthy or not. In a few years we will be having designer children and worry just as much about the littlest possible imperfection that was not planned for and then worry about this child’s future.

    So what I stumbled on is that a lot of what is considered evil is relative. Something that is not hard to understand but which I found few even considered. This is not a unique discovery by myself since I have since read many much more intelligent people than myself who have discussed this issue throughout history.

    Supposedly the main issue in Christianity is salvation and given that, there is only one true evil, the lack of salvation. So are the other things which are considered evil only worldly things and not really truly evil but only reflect our squeamish feelings and what makes us squeamish changes as we get more technological advanced.

  23. kairosfocus, your last post (#20) basically seems to restate in other terms and agree with my views in #19, except for the problem of “natural evil”. You say “On the issue of natural evil, he (Plantinga) incorporates it into his defense, successfully on its own terms.”

    I hope you will address my own argument on this, that this kind of reasoning applied to natural evil has two serious problems (#19, second and third paragraphs), leaving the overall problem of evil unresolved.

  24. Magnan:

    We are in significant agreement on the impact of Plantiga’s free-will defense on the Mackie- style deductive form of the problem of evil. That is, as a defense [as opposed to a theodicy] it has broken the back of the strongest form of the challenge.

    It also sets a context for addressing both the inductive form [successfully] and also the issue of natural evils. [The existential problem is best addressed existentially, through healing encounter with God, as Job illustrates.]

    Namely, through the Plantinga Free-will defense approach, the claimed contradiction on the existence of God in a world in which evil exists is resolved:

    1. God exists

    2. God is omnipotent – all powerful[5]

    –> revised by A. P. [cf. discussion for the steps involved] to include: 2b: “A good, omnipotent God will eliminate evil as far as he can without either losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.”

    3. God is omniscient – all-knowing

    4. God is omnibenevolent – all-good

    5. God created the world

    –> Amended by AP to: 5a: “God created a world (potentially) containing evil; and has a good reason for doing so.”

    –> Also note AP’s key point that: “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral [i.e. especially, agent-action based] evil only by removing the possibility of moral good [NB a condition of such is a world in which actions have reliably predictable consequences -- and such a world will have in it potential for natural evils, some of which may be worsened by the consequences of ill- thought- through or intentionally selfish agent actions].”

    6. The world contains evil

    –> 1, 2, 2b, 3, 4, 5, 5a and 6 are plainly consistent, and are consistent with the God of Judaeo-Christian theism.

    [NB: I have added points and notes in sq. brackets. The details that flesh out the above skeletal argument are vitally important; kindly at minimum read the summary in the linked. Also, read the Koukl article.]

    Now, whether evils are “natural” [product of chance and/or mechanical necessity only], or agent-induced, the above logic still holds.

    The issue therefore really pivots on whether we are in a position to properly and credibly estimate and conclude that God as commonly conceived/ revealed in the Judaeo-Christian worldview has failed to achieve the conditions in 2b and 5a; a daunting challenge for admittedly finite and fallible thinkers.

    On more on this last, kindly cf. again my excerpt from Behe, at 17, and observe the implications of a word-order in which there are laws of mechanical necessity which allow actions to have predictable consequences. In such a world, especially if the priority is on soul-making [i.e more or less character formation] not our pleasures and comfort, natural evils may exist in the context of allowing for a greater good.

    Further, action to eliminate such evils “at once” may well mean — as Geoff highlights in 11 — eliminating the greater good starting with our own existence as creatures capable of love and other virtues tied to agency.

    Notice, too, on the Christian worldview, we have a programme of redemption, including loving and liberating suffering by the Saviour as for instance Is 53 highlights. [NB: Since this is an OT scripture, it arguably extends the the Judaic form of the same basic worldview too.]

    Thus, on this worldview, the elimination of evil is an ongoing process in which we as redeemable agents may play a key part, not an event; and we too plainly have our duties in that process to act on the good now, not later.

    That is, we too may well be implicated in the scope, duration and impact of evils — including “natural” ones.

    I trust this is helpful.

    GEM of TKI

  25. Unfortunately, it is true that in any complex debate “A proper response to your proper response would be a book,” as “Semiotic” 007 appropriately stressed. In other words, the more we say, the more our misunderstanding seems to escalate. This is partly why the main challenge of ID is to focus not on writing more and more “books” and responding to every little twitch or accusation of Darwinists, but rather on stripping the problems to the bare bones by eliminating all the chaff of confusion, and steering the debate in that direction, out of the jungle of meaninglessness.

    Semiotic 007 can’t buy the fact that Darwinism is supported in order to prop up the methodological naturalism of modern science, and that otherwise Darwinism has very little use and explanatory power. But that is the sad predicament of any “science” defined in such incomplete terms. Is methodological naturalism powerful enough to explain some or many (natural only) things? It obviously is. Is it powerful enough to deal with repetitive phenomena in nature, but that is its limit and such science should not step outside of its circle of relevance or meaningfulness. If it does, it is the duty of any honest scientist and philosopher to immediately scream and correct those who attempt such an “illegal operation.”

    Still, the question of the explanatory power of Darwinism remains, and if Semitioc hasn’t ducked out completely, perhaps he can explain the explanatory power and usefulness of Darwinism. And remember that even the superior explanatory power of relativity is relative.

  26. kairosfocus, thanks for the excellent tutorial summary (“Proofs” and the existence of God). I admire the humility in the conclusion, “On balance, it is rational to believe that God exists, but obviously there are many deep, even painful questions to which we have no answers.”

    I still don’t think there is any valid solution to the problem of “natural evil”. Plantinga’s argument is basically that this is the best of possible worlds. That is, there is not a possible physical world where free will exists but the laws of nature and biology preclude the worst forms of pointless meaningless innocent human suffering (i. e. disease and natural disaster). This seems to be a little presumptuous. Just to examine one single natural evil, the scourge of malaria. Can we validly say that it is impossible to have a nature where biochemistry precludes the existence of such a parasite, or where the human immune system is able to more successfully deal with it?

  27. Magnan:

    I see you have perused my introductory discussion of arguments to and against God, in a lecture course I once presented on intro to phil. Thanks for the kind words.

    I see you still take issue with the points I made on natural evil above. I will note on a point or two:

    1] Plantinga’s argument is basically that this is the best of possible worlds.

    Not at all.

    As already excerpted, his argument addresses the Mackie style, deductive form of the problem of evil, and by extension the inductive form. In skeletal summary [I have already excerpted and linked at 24], he makes a free will defense that shows that the problem of evil as presented fails to make its claim that the existence of evil in a world created by an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent God implies that this concept of God is inescapably self-contradictory and self-destructs.

    In this he plainly succeeds, again because he was able to introduce and warrant a crucial point [in a very extensive discussion BTW], which decisively shows the logical coherence of his view:

    “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral [i.e. especially, agent-action based] evil only by removing the possibility of moral good [NB a condition of such is a world in which actions have reliably predictable consequences — and such a world will have in it potential for natural evils, some of which may be worsened by the consequences of ill- thought- through or intentionally selfish agent actions].”

    This is a balance of good and evil argument, not a pretence that he knows that this is the best of all possible worlds.

    2] [AP argues] there is not a possible physical world where free will exists but the laws of nature and biology preclude the worst forms of pointless meaningless innocent human suffering (i. e. disease and natural disaster).

    This presentation first begs major questions, through some rather emotive language: do we already know that disease and natural disaster constitute [in general] pointless meaningless innocent human suffering, much less the worst forms of such?

    Also, I think you confuse two types of argument: theodicy and defense. A Defense in this instance only needs to put forth a logically possible — as opposed to showing such to be (to arbitrarily high standards of “proof”) factually existing — state of affairs, then show its consequences relative to the claim.

    Once a logically coherent state of affairs exists in which God is good and powerful etc but evil exists is possible, then it cannot be inferred properly that evil introduces such a contradiction that we may conclude that the concept of God of theism is so incoherent that we may infer that such a God does not exist.

    This AP successfully did. [In short, it blunts the all-too-usual selective hyperskeptical demand for "proof" to arbitrary levels of certainty.]

    Further to this, what he points out is that in cases where freedom leads to the emergence of goods that overbalance associated potential or actual evils, then creating a world in which freedom exists is defensible.

    Now, too, without freedom, virtues such as love, courage, fortitude, kindness, gentleness, compassion, caring, etc etc are simply not possible; as, these require the power of real choice to be virtues. So, if the world is to contain such virtues, it must have in it creatures who are significantly free; which cannot preclude their ability to make vicious rather than virtuous choices, which will have consequences in a cosmos with the sort of orderly natural regularities that are a key underpinning of rational moral choice.

    And, such natural forces and regularities make for a world in which natural evils are therefore possible and potentially real. In our world, they are actual.

    (It may help for me to point out that I am a survivor of a serious childhood illness that dogged my growing up years and nearly killed me several times. But it forced me to divert from the things the youth culture of that day valued, and inter alia helped lead me to become a thinker, indeed, there is a genetic link between the syndrome and relatively high intelligence. So, was my suffering pointless and meaningless?)

    3] Can we validly say that it is impossible to have a nature where biochemistry precludes the existence of such a parasite, or where the human immune system is able to more successfully deal with it?

    There are many diseases and ways of suffering. For each, it is always possible to demand that the cup of suffering be removed, and to point an accusing finger if it is not.

    In short, the claim strongly suggests or possibly even implies that any suffering consequential on the natural order [and on the actions of any agents, human, ET or demonic etc] is unacceptable, or even — immoral on the part of the Creator.

    This first seems to me to presume to sit in a seat of moral judgement, knowledge and wisdom that goes beyond what we are capable of as finite, fallible and too often self-servingly ill-willed humans.

    Second, it fails to address the underlying issue: whence moral judgement and its validity — i.e we need to assess the argument in its wider worldviews context. In a Theistic worldview in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, pain and suffering etc are issues and concerns, precisely because the world is viewed as the creation of a Moral God. On say evolutionary materialist views, moral claims have no more than emotive force.

    Third, it fails to address the comparative issue: the point AP makes is that a world that facilitates freedom opens the door to virtue, including several of the very highest goods. Indeed, in the Christian form of the tradition, it opens the door to the Creator who solves the problem of evil by bearing our sorrows, sins and griefs, opening to us the doorway to salvation, deliverance, healing and wholeness. Thus, there are no unabsorbed evils on that view. [Thus further, you need to address the core warranting argument and key claims of that view before you can assert that certain sufferings are pointless and/or an unacceptable price. That is, the problem of evil is no cutting of the the Gordian knot. But to seriously undertake -- as opposed to to point out the relevance of -- that wider worldviews comparative difficulties assessment project goes too far afield for this blog!]

    What is clear is that the Judaeo-Christian theistic stance is not at all unreasonable or absurd or uncompassionate, even in the face of natural evils that we have not as yet eliminated or resolved.

    And, that is all that is required for a defense. (Cf. again my remark at 24, please.)

    GEM of TKI

  28. Magnan: That is, there is not a possible physical world where free will exists but the laws of nature and biology preclude the worst forms of pointless meaningless innocent human suffering (i. e. disease and natural disaster).

    Not only does this way of thinking make some pretty big assumptions as KF points out, but it reveals a view of suffering that is very much at odds with what at least one prominent theologian had to say:

    “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

    His contemporary seemed to agree:

    “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

    These writers appear to view suffering as a valuable means to an end that is ultimately good. They seem to view character and maturity as the ultimate goal and trials and suffering as not only allowable in achieving those goals, but beneficial and even necessary.

    Perhaps it is the notion that ultimate good and the lack of suffering are synonymous that is the real evil here? Yet (at least to the Christian way of thinking) the most beneficial, heroic, loving, and ultimately good act ever committed was chock full of unimaginable suffering.

  29. Uh-oh. It looks like my previous post might have gotten stuck in moderation. Please free it. :)

  30. Plantinga does seem to be asserting that the world is the most perfect possible world. This is in the sense that it is the best possible tradeoff or balance between the most good achieved and the least bad necessarily enabled. If it is not, then the question is why.

    kairosfocus: “In short, the claim strongly suggests or possibly even implies that any suffering consequential on the natural order [and on the actions of any agents, human, ET or demonic etc] is unacceptable, or even — immoral on the part of the Creator.”

    This is a value judgement that can only validly be made by the individual sufferer, not by philosophers. You consider your illness to have overall been a blessing of a sort. Many people do so consider their particular travails. But others would not consider any overarching meaning and purpose to personally justify their particular pain. To such ones innocent suffering is an ontological badness that cannot be “absorbed” by some overall good. I believe that one must respect the right of the sufferer himself to decide on this. I myself would not have the temerity to say “buck up – it’s ultimately for the good of your soul”.

    My view of idealistic philosophical reasoning is that it is all well and good, but necessarily shrinks from confrontation with brute reality. Idealism needs to be given a test case to determine its validity. Consider someone dying in agony of bone cancer or smallpox or bubonic plague, without even modern analgesics. I am certain many such persons would angrily reject the notion that their pain is justified as a necessary result of soul or Divine choices.

    In the case of human-caused evil, cruelty, the ultimate cause is the very creation of the human personalities in the first place, which was not a human action. So in this sense even Plantinga’s free will argument does not hold up.

    kairosfocus: “There are many diseases and ways of suffering. For each, it is always possible to demand that the cup of suffering be removed, and to point an accusing finger if it is not.” (In answer to (magnan): “Can we validly say that it is impossible to have a nature where biochemistry precludes the existence of such a parasite (Malaria plasmodium), or where the human immune system is able to more successfully deal with it?”)

    Yes, it is always possible to point the “accusing finger”. But unless we know it is impossible to have such a world as I hypothesized, it seems also reasonable to point that accusing finger. And to reluctantly consider a different sort of God, with different defining characteristics. In reality we do not know enough to determine whether such a world is possible or not, so from a rational scientific standpoint the issue is unresolved. As you said, the Plantinga rationale is a defense of the Christian theistic view that at least prevents a strong logical rational refutation of it.

  31. Phinehas and Magnan:

    First, the possibility that soul-making takes precedence over freedom from pain and suffering is indeed a significant issue on the problem of evil. P, you are right to raise this, and to cite those pesky C1 theologians in a certain all-time bestselling book.

    Now, on specific points:

    1] P, 29: It looks like my previous post might have gotten stuck in moderation.

    I have had major problems on that for months now. Something is very odd about Akismet, especially when set at such a high security level as seems to obtain for UD.

    2] M, 30: Plantinga does seem to be asserting that the world is the most perfect possible world

    So far as I know, he makes no such assertion; nor do any other reasonably recent philosophers of note. More accurately, you are inferring this from what he does address. It is you who have the duty to show that your claimed position is a necessary condition of what he does say, or you are tilting at a strawman.

    3] This is in the sense that it is the best possible tradeoff or balance between the most good achieved and the least bad necessarily enabled. If it is not, then the question is why.

    Again, AP makes no such claim.

    First of all, as repeatedly noted, as one advancing a DEFENSE as opposed to a theodicy, he principally speaks to the question of logical possibility and shows through logically possible states of affairs, that the theistic set of propositions (so long as it is in a form acceptable to theists), is consistent once certain such logically possible auxiliary propositions are added, which directly entails that they are coherent, period. Thus, in particular, the Mackie-style claim of incoherence falls, defeated.

    In that context, we can assess whether the auxiliary claim that he does make . . .

    A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . .

    . . . is reasonable. And, once we see that real virtues — love, courage, fortitude, kindness, justice etc — are inherently associated with the power of choice, then if we have a world in which virtuous agency is possible, vice is also possible. Such a world will have natural regularites which will lead to possibilities for natural disasters and pains and evils, due to the consequences of agent action, and in the general context of the nature of a world in which there are predictable mechanisms also at work. Further to this, it seems that we do live in such a world.

    4] others would not consider any overarching meaning and purpose to personally justify their particular pain . . . one must respect the right of the sufferer himself to decide on this.

    And, whence cometh a world in which individuals have their own freely chosen views and rights? Could that not be inherently a world in which the point Plantinga highlights and I just noted on, obtains?

    Further to this, you are slipping into the existential form of the problem of evil here, perhaps compounded by the emotional appeal to misery. The answer to that is, ever since the days of Job, encounter with God in which one finds healing and understanding. Also, in the Christian context, as Is 53 so eloquently highlights [cf here Ac 8:26 ff] , the further answer is that God has himself entered into our suffering and has become the ultimate wounded healer.

    And, in turn, as others have pointed out above, it is only in a world made by a Creator, that we have rights and claims to just treatment.

    This brings us full circle to the point made by Koukl. Namely, that the existence of a moral order, even through the manifestations of pain and evil, itself points to God; once we look at the implications and comparative difficulties across competing live option worldviews.

    5] unless we know it is impossible to have such a world as I hypothesized, it seems also reasonable to point that accusing finger . . . we do not know enough to determine whether such a world is possible or not, so from a rational scientific standpoint the issue is unresolved.

    Not at all. You are here trying to convert a defense into a theodicy and shift the burden of proof, imposing an arbitrarily high and idiosyncratic criterion of proof into the bargain.

    It doesn’t work that way!

    So soon as one is an agent who values his freedom, s/he ratifies the principle put forth by AP, and immediately faces the challenge of virtue/vice and consequences of action. Moreover, as sinners, we therefore indict ourselves as a part of the process of injecting evils and pains into the world — natural and human.

    Thence, immediately, the point made by Geoff in 11 above: Would you like God to wipe out all evil? Would you like Him to start with you? [In short, the implication is that you are demanding a world in which true, responsible, choosing agency is impossible. A world without love and other virtues. So, agency would have to be eliminated, before the fact or after the fact.]

    God, on the relevant theistic view, has chosen a world in which love is possible; i.e as the principal agent responsible, on HIS view, a world in which love is possible absorbs on balance the pains and evils that result. We ratify that view, every time we value or use the power of choice.

    Therefore, instead of pointing accusing fingers at God, we ought to confront first our own existential guilt before the Innocent Agent who has taken up our sorrows, borne our griefs, and was wounded for our transgressions, such that by his stripes we are healed.

    Otherwise, we are plainly guilty of hypocritical finger-pointing intended to distract attention from our own complicity in pain- and evil- making. (Well do I remember my Fourth Grade teacher, Sis Virginia Claire, especially her telling remark that when we point an accusing finger three more are pointing back at our own guilty selves.)

    And, once we have seen our own guilt, and the possibility of grace and healing, the existential form of the problem of evil takes on a very different colour.

    And, we too can join the army of wounded healers.

    GEM of TKI

  32. kairosfocus: “Again, AP makes no such claim.” (In answer to Magnan: This is in the sense that it is the best possible tradeoff or balance between the most good achieved and the least bad necessarily enabled. If it is not, then the question is why.)

    You are right in that I should have explained that this is a reasonable inference of Plantinga’s argument. Plantinga is ultimately defending, among other things, the notion of an all-benevolent God. If he is not, then why his argument? An all-benevolent God would seem not to create a world with unnecessary suffering. If this world containing much human-caused and natural evil is not the best possible world in the above sense (i. e. contains unnecessary suffering in the above sense of a non-optimal balance), then there is more evil (or the potential for it) than necessary. Since we do not really know how much evil is necessary, it is logically possible that the actual tradeoff is for very little good compared to very much evil. The question logically follows: how could an all-benevolent God create it? Therefore Plantinga’s argument seems to logically imply the possibility that God is not really all-benevolent. If he is really only arguing that such all-benevolence is logically possible, I certainly agree. However, the converse is also logically possible, and we do not know enough to decide which is the actual case.

    kairosfocus: “… if we have a world in which virtuous agency is possible, vice is also possible. Such a world will have natural regularites which will lead to possibilities for natural disasters and pains and evils, due to the consequences of agent action, and in the general context of the nature of a world in which there are predictable mechanisms also at work. Further to this, it seems that we do live in such a world.”

    No argument. But do we know this is a world with more pains and evils than necessary in order to enable “virtuous agency”? It seems clear to me that the answer is no. Also, pure reason and logic does not lead to an answer since both propositions are logically possible. Then this leads to uneasy speculations which are only resovable through faith, in your case faith in Christian teachings. I think you basically agree with this, from your statement following: “Therefore, instead of pointing accusing fingers at God, we ought to confront first our own existential guilt before the Innocent Agent who has taken up our sorrows, borne our griefs, and was wounded for our transgressions, such that by his stripes we are healed.”

  33. If God is good, he would desire that we would live by The Golden Rule and command it.

    Further, if what our souls desired most was freedom, God in his goodness would grant it.

    Of course, this would, by definition, grant the ability to reject his commands and even allow us to disbelieve in him.

    And that, I think, explains evil.

  34. Magnan and Tribune:

    It’s been a hot few days at UD, but it is time to get back to the issues on evil that have come to dominate this thread.

    I note on a few points:

    1] M, 32: Plantinga is ultimately defending, among other things, the notion of an all-benevolent God. If he is not, then why his argument? An all-benevolent God would seem not to create a world with unnecessary suffering.

    The bolded word gives the game away: on what grounds do you infer that certain suffering is necessary/ unnecessary? Are we better equipped to judge than God is on such matters? [And, given the alternatives on worldviews, that is not a trivial issue: e.g. evo mat-anchored views run into serious trouble accounting for the mind much less morals.]

    Instead of addressing your inference from AP’s argument, it weould have been better — less likely to distort to a strawman — to directly and specifically address what he actually did argue:

    A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . .

    This is not a best of all possible worlds-style theodicy; it is a balance of good and evil argument. That is what should properly be addressed.

    This defence also raises the implication that a world in which virtue — which requires agency — is possible and frequent enough [starting with love] is one in which the choice to do evil is possible, but does not overwhelm the qualitative increment in good that agency introduces. Within that circle, a world of agency also requires a natural order that will have reliably predictable consequences to actions, which opens the door to the possibility of natural evils; as was previously discussed.

    2] Since we do not really know how much evil is necessary, it is logically possible that the actual tradeoff is for very little good compared to very much evil . . . If he is really only arguing that such all-benevolence is logically possible, I certainly agree. However, the converse is also logically possible, and we do not know enough to decide which is the actual case.

    And so — here I echo Paul in Rom 9 ff — we, in our acknowledged ignorance, arrogate to sit in throne of judgement on the omniscient God? Is that wise? [Cf the Athenians of Ac 17 who had to maintain a public monument to their ignorance on God, but insisted that God could not be as Paul proclaimed him to them based on life-transforming encounter and relationship with God (which inter alia assured him of the goodness of God beyond where he could trace him) . . .]

    In short, we first have to get our attitude right before we can reasonably address such a question!

    Next, you are again trying to convert a defence into a theodicy that can then be objected to by burden of proof shifting.

    Ah nuh so it go!

    Plantinga’s argument is that once a certain logical possibility stands, we can “immediately” show that evil does not drive the concept of God into self-destructive incoherence, and by extension, that the perceived extent of evils is not in itself evidence that this possibility is unlikely. This argument stands, and it is an outstanding achievement in work on the idea of God in the past century.

    Thirdly, you are converting a comparison into an argument about “necessity” which we are in no position to judge. Save, that we openly ratify the decision to create a world in which virtue is possible every time we think, argue, or love and care. In so doing, we plainly value a world in which virtue is possible. But immediately that is a world in which vice is also possible.

    There remains only the question of extent. And, Kant comes to our aid through the Categorical Imperative. One implication of this, is that when vice runs epidemic, a society of agents becomes non-functionally chaotic as such misbehaviour is destructive. So, since human society has been functional across the ages, we have reason to believe that AP is right to assume that on balance, we [and other potentially relevant agents] have collectively more often done right than wrong. Thus, his criterion is plainly met, and we can and do credibly know that.

    3] But do we know this is a world with more pains and evils than necessary in order to enable “virtuous agency”?

    Again, the “necesary,” burden of proof shifting strawman appears. This argument too, therefore falls; having already been answered.

    4] both propositions are logically possible. Then this leads to uneasy speculations which are only resovable through faith

    Maybe you missed my longstandeing underlying point: ALL chains of arguments/ “proofs” in the end reduce to explanations relative to faith-points that lie at the heart of our worldviews. That is, in material part, why such issues are to be addressed in terms of comparative difficulties across live options at worldview core first plausibles level. (Thus, my adverting to Koukl’s argument from the acknowledged existence of morality.)

    To briefly summarise: a claim A requires warrant, which leads to B. But B in turn needs C, D , . . . So either we appeal to infinite regress [impossible for finite, fallible thinkers] or we arrive at F, our first plausibles. To escape the circularity trap, we examine alternatives on a comparative difficulties basis. Thus, on this basis, we are in a position to infer to best explanation.

    Therefore, since you raise the challenge, I answer: I am willing to argue that redemptive, Trinitarian Monotheism is the best explanation of the world as we experience it, including on that particular form of the problem of the one and the many, the problem of good and evil.

    I do indeed exercise faith, but it is not the unreasoning, irrational, destructive faith of the blind leading the blind as far as the nearest ditch.

    Like all other serious thinkers, I seek to exert instead reasonable faith. So, the objection that the matter implies faith is irrelevant as it is a characteristic of all worldviews once put on a level playing field.

    And, I join with many millions over many centuries in testifying that this faith has been empirically confirmed through positively life-changing encounter with the good God who stands behind the relevant worldview.

    Nor is this news, it goes back to . . . Job!

    GEM of TKI

  35. kairosfocus: “on what grounds do you infer that certain suffering is necessary/ unnecessary?”

    Plantinga’s whole argument is that suffering is an inevitable result of (is necessary if there are to be) humans being given free will and the freedom to make moral judgements. The definition of the amount that is “necessary” in this case directly follows from omnibenevolence. An omnibenevolent God would be capable of and would surely have minimized the amount of human suffering to just that necessarily entailed by human free will and the attendant ability to make moral judgements between good and evil.

    If this suffering has not been minimized in this way, then “omnibenevolence” is not understandable from a human standpoint.

    The infinite Intelligence that ultimately created this world created the system of physical lawlike interactions that govern it, and at least the initial conditions. Cause and effect and the existence of physical laws inevitably result in some “natural evil”. The amount of “natural evil” in the world would be different with different possible natural laws and/or initial conditions. Therefore this infinite Intelligence must have been capable of choosing a world system with the minimum “necessary” natural suffering (in the above sense).

    But there is very much “natural evil” in the world that does not seem to be necessary for a natural order that allows free will. We don’t know enough to determine this scientifically and it is not logically precluded, hence the uneasy speculation and the need for faith that I mentioned.

    When I stated “…both propositions are logically possible. Then this leads to uneasy speculations which are only resovable through faith”, I didn’t mean to denigrate faith, but just to contend that Plantinga’s argument does not resolve the problem of natural evil as being a necessary result of a world of free human agents having moral choice. Even with Plantinga’s ingenious arguments, the rational intellect through philosophy, science and simple observation of life cannot resolve the problem, and the only recourse is beyond the rational – faith.

    kairosfocus: “Maybe you missed my longstandeing underlying point: ALL chains of arguments/ “proofs” in the end reduce to explanations relative to faith-points that lie at the heart of our worldviews.”

    I have always held that in human suffering there is an irreducuble experiential badness that is not a “faith-point at the heart of our worldviews”. It is not ultimately a matter of faith that there is badness in innocent suffering. Physical pain is suffering and is bad because that is the way the human animal nature works.

    This avoids conveniently rationalizing the ugly facts of much of human life, in which so much pain has no conceivable rational purpose. You don’t seem to have really engaged my previous point, that “I believe that one must respect the right of the sufferer himself to decide on this (whether his suffering is justified by his “soul growth” (or anything else)). I myself would not have the temerity to say “buck up – it’s ultimately for the good of your soul””. Would you?

  36. Magnan:

    It is clear this thread has deadlocked. Your arguments simply repeat what has already IMHCO been adequately addressed.

    I only add on AP that you are wrong in how you rework Plantinga’s argument, and so you keep on tilting at a strawman of your own making.

    For instance, it is simply not true that Plantinga’s whole argument is that suffering is an inevitable result of (is necessary if there are to be) humans being given free will and the freedom to make moral judgements. Further, An omnibenevolent God would be capable of and would surely have minimized the amount of human suffering to just that necessarily entailed by human free will and the attendant ability to make moral judgements between good and evil. sunstitutes your own [IMHCO erroneous] claim for what AP actually said, as I cited at 24 above.

    Why not take on AP’s argument as he words it for a change? [If you cannot, that lends strong support to my point that your rephrasing distorts his argument, leading to a strawman fallacy.]

    On faith points being at the core of worldviews, can you show beyond all rational doubt that we are not brains in vats in some experiment in a lab somewhere? Or the like? [For such a world is empirically equivalent to the one in which we think we live. It was only the gaps in the Matrix system that allowed for the difference to be spotted.]

    In short, again, you need to address the underlying point in the chain of challenges: why accept A, B, C , . . . and show that such a chain of reasoning does not end in a faith point or else in an impossible infinite regress.

    You again then simply insist on reiteration of a seriously disputable, question-begging point: the ugly facts of much of human life, in which so much pain has no conceivable rational purpose.

    Please, address AP’s argument as he stated it, starting with the summary in 24 supra, especially the following cite:

    A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral [i.e. especially, agent-action based] evil only by removing the possibility of moral good [NB a condition of such is a world in which actions have reliably predictable consequences — and such a world will have in it potential for natural evils, some of which may be worsened by the consequences of ill- thought- through or intentionally selfish agent actions].”

    This seems IMHCO, to point out that a world in which virtue is possible is a world in which choice is possible, thus, evil is possible.

    But also, on the relevant worldview of theism, and in light of the world which we inhabit, the Creator has made provisions to limit the extent and to eventually heal, restore and renew the world from evil without violating our freedom to choose.

    Speaking directly to these points will give us a basis for further serious discussion.

    Otherwise, the deadlock caused by tilting at strawmen will plainly prove fatal.

    GEM of TKI

  37. H’mm: Mod piled.

    Also, this has now decisively drifted away for m the core issue: methodological naturalism as an improper, question-begging redefinition of science and the implications of its adoption by scientists who hold a theistic philosophy.

    I think we need to get back on track, and that the side track [which is an inmportant issue in its own right] should be resolved as in the mod piled.

    GEM of TKI

  38. kairosfocus” “Please, address AP’s argument as he stated it, starting with the summary in 24 supra, especially the following cite:

    “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures”"

    This thread does seem to have come to a deadlock, but I honestly don’t see how my argument conflicts with this statement of Plantinga’s, which is carefully limited. I have no conflict with this very limited claim. The issue, as I indicated, is one of degree or amount of suffering, and its theological justification. This topic is related to what to seem to me to be clear implications of Plantinga’s precise claim. Anyway, as I indicated, in my opinion the issue of the problem of suffering goes beyond philosophy into the inherently experiential, but you are careful to not engage this.

    I aree that this has drifted well away from the core issue related to ID, and probably we should drop it.

  39. Magnan:

    Please cf the request at 36 supra. To get to your own argument, for instance, you would have to SHOW how AP’s statement and/or argument as a whole entail your own comment. So far you have not.

    Then, you would have to answer to the issues with your own argument.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Patrick, back on permanent mod piling AGAIN.

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