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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: Does the Existence of Evil Disprove God?

By November 8, 2012

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One of the strongest and most popular arguments against the existence of God is the 'argument from evil.' According to this argument, the traditional god people believe in can't exist in a world with so much evil -- either God would do something, or God can't be very good. This is, in fact, one of the oldest arguments against the existence of any gods, not just the god of contemporary western monotheism. Do you agree that it's the strongest atheological argument or is there something better?

For certain types of gods, some form of the Argument from Evil is probably the strongest we can have because it creates such a powerful contrast between the way the world actually is and the way the world should be if the claims of theists were even remotely true. This forces theists to engage in all sorts of redefinitions in an attempt to salvage their beliefs, but the more they redefine the weaker their position actually becomes.

Even worse, they often move further and further away from their traditional, orthodox religious beliefs, thus undermining any attempts to argue that their religion is true. This is a problem seen in a lot of efforts to prove the existence of a god: at most, apologists argue for the existence of some sort of vaguely defined god that is removed from the universe, but this god comes nowhere close to the very involved god of traditional Christianity.

Even so, as I noted above this is one of the oldest arguments against gods and has been used against even non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, non-omnibenevolent gods. Although this argument cannot definitively prove the nonexistence of such gods, it does suggest that their existence is unlikely and, if they do exist, that they are hardly worthy of worship. This is important because once we pull the "worthy of worship" rug out from under a god concept, much of what's normally taken for granted is lost and the entire structure of a religion built around obeying and worshipping gods starts to crumble.

Comments
September 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm
(1) Thiago Leite says:

I’m not sure about the strength of that argument. I think Theology has grown more sophisticated while having to face arguments like those. As for christian people, they believe it is necessary to be tempted, so they can prove their virtuousness.

(I had a friend who didn’t care if God was fair or unfair, as long as she was in the right path and was going to be saved in the end.)

I see one problem with this argument. The very concept of evil is a religious idea, and a question that an atheist should consider is: “Are really good and evil universal concepts?”

September 25, 2008 at 2:25 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

As for christian people, they believe it is necessary to be tempted, so they can prove their virtuousness.

Given that the argument from evil is about the existence of human suffering, I’m unclear as to how this is relevant.

(I had a friend who didn’t care if God was fair or unfair, as long as she was in the right path and was going to be saved in the end.)

That’s a bit like not caring whom Hitler kills, just so long as he invites you into his bunker instead of sending you on the trains to Auschwitz.

If Christians want to make that argument, they are more than welcome to do so — it just reveals the moral depravity at the heart of such religions.

I see one problem with this argument. The very concept of evil is a religious idea,

Since when?

and a question that an atheist should consider is: “Are really good and evil universal concepts?”

They are universal in that they exist in all human cultures. I’m quite comfortable with saying that some things are quite evil.

September 25, 2008 at 3:25 pm
(3) Thiago Leite says:

So, when you say evil you are talking about what you consider to be evil? And that would be human suffering, wouldn’t it? (I could say that I agree with you in this point.)

But for Christianity and other beliefs evil and suffering are not the same thing. In fact, for some Catholics it is necessary to suffer. For many of them, if a person allows oneself to enjoy the pleasures of this world, one is under control of the Devil (at least that’s what some brazilian priests say). In some contexts, to be virtuous means crawling over hundreds of steps on one’s own bare knees. That is suffering, but it is good for them. It’s a kind of probation.

I agree with you in that this argument is strong (I only think it is not that strong). After all, if there is an almighty creature who gave us a world of joys and pains, who expect us to find out for ourselves what is wrong and what is right and is going to reward the lucky ones, then we are in a prison. And that is no good.

That’s a bit like not caring whom Hitler kills, just so long as he invites you into his bunker instead of sending you on the trains to Auschwitz.

That’s it. When she told me that, I said that I would prefer to take the risk of being punished, because such deity doesn’t deserve respect, as He doesn’t seem to give us freedom.

September 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm
(4) fauxrs says:

Hmm Ive often wondered, considering the depravity of the old testament God, if evil wasnt a good argument FOR the existance of god.

September 25, 2008 at 4:52 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

But for Christianity and other beliefs evil and suffering are not the same thing. In fact, for some Catholics it is necessary to suffer.

Not all suffering. However, if they want to argue that it’s good that children starve or are raped, they are welcome to do so.

September 26, 2008 at 3:44 pm
(6) John Hanks says:

Evil and weakness rule, when the love of God is absent.

September 26, 2008 at 7:40 pm
(7) Mriana says:

I am a non-theist, but even as a non-theist, I fail to see how this is a viable argument against the existance of God. My relatives are Evangelicals and when I left home at 19, I spent 20 years in the Episcopal Church. Somehow, the idea that evil negates a deity just doesn’t work.

See, for my Evangelical relatives, Satan is evil and God is good. All that is good is of God and all that is evil is of the devil. There goes the argument of evil negating God right out the window. Listen to Bishop Schori and you will see the philosophy of many Episcopalians- Love is God/God is love. So even in that respect, God is good. Listen to Bishop Spong, and God is the Ground of All Being and there is no Hell, which would mean there is no devil. You would think this would negate God too, but he has a non-realist POV, much like the Sea of Faith. Former Anglican priest Anthony Freeman views God in Us and takes a Humanistic view of things. Again, it is a non-realist view. Culpitt is the same- a non-realist.

So, such an argument doesn’t hold up with many Christians, including Humanistic Christians like Spong and Culpitt. Thus, even as a non-theist and Humanist, ex-Christian, I cannot say that the argument is a viable argument for many Christians. Nor was it an argument that brought me to my non-theist stance today.

September 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm
(8) Brent says:

I’ve never considered this a sound argument against religious belief. Gods need not be omniscient, omnipotent nor omnibenevolent. For the believer their deities can be a combination of these in the supernatural buffet of power. Just consider the less than appealing member deities of ancient pantheons. Perhaps, our modern conception of good god is much like the changing image of the papacy. Strip it of its power, and it becomes a cute and cuddley media event.

I would ask Christians specifically whether they would still believe in and worship a god who was evil if he were still their creator?

It’s a reasonable question since observations of Christian theists often show them to be contemptuous of the humanitarism (and yes there is some there) of the New Testament when they see like ideas advanced by their hated enemies: liberals and progressives! It would appear believers merely worship the power out of fear of damnation, not the underlying ideas.

September 26, 2008 at 7:51 pm
(9) JT says:

I think that the existance of evil or the moral concept at least realy only stands as a bases for the postulate of a god. If you think about it opposite forces are abundent in nature. It would stand to reason that a god would have an opposite of its own.

September 26, 2008 at 10:14 pm
(10) Austin Cline says:

Gods need not be omniscient, omnipotent nor omnibenevolent.

True. I discuss above how this argument might be used against other gods.

September 26, 2008 at 10:15 pm
(11) Austin Cline says:

If you think about it opposite forces are abundent in nature.

Are they, or do we just categorize them that way?

It would stand to reason that a god would have an opposite of its own.

Why? How do you reason from categorize of natural phenomena to gods?

September 26, 2008 at 10:17 pm
(12) Austin Cline says:

See, for my Evangelical relatives, Satan is evil and God is good. All that is good is of God and all that is evil is of the devil. There goes the argument of evil negating God right out the window.

Except that evil and the devil only exist so long as God allows it. Ergo, God is ultimately responsible for the evil.

Listen to Bishop Schori and you will see the philosophy of many Episcopalians- Love is God/God is love. So even in that respect, God is good.

Yet this god allows so much evil to exist.

So, such an argument doesn’t hold up with many Christians, including Humanistic Christians like Spong and Culpitt.

I think that it’s by ignoring or denying its implications. Evil exists. If their god exists, it must either allow this evil, deliberately cause this evil, or is impotent in the face of that evil.

September 27, 2008 at 4:10 pm
(13) JJ says:

The existence of evil does not disprove the existence of all gods, only certain types of gods. The existence of evil shows that a god cannot be both all-good and all-powerful.

Many believers seem to feel that God (e.g. the Judeo-Christian’s God) is all-good, yet somehow allows or tacitly approves of evil in the world. If everything was created by such a god, then that god is the ultimate source of evil. How can such a god be described as all-benevolent? It’s possible if the god could not help the situation, but then that god could not be described as all-powerful.

The existence of evil is not incompatible with God. The pertinent question is, can that god still be considered all-good and all-powerful at the same time? Would not an all-powerful and all-benevolent god prevent or do away with evils in the world?

People have believed in “evil” or sinister gods throughout history, e.g. Loki of the Norse, Kali of the Hindus, etc.

September 28, 2008 at 2:27 am
(14) The Sojourner says:

I would say that if evil exists, it does not have anything to do with the presence or absence of a deity. However, most religions will forgive you for the committing of evil as long as you repent and say the right words to gain forgiveness. With that kind of attitude, no wonder evil exists.

It seems someone could justify past evil behavior, by saying I accept (fill in you own deity) and ask for forgiveness, for I am now a believer (in whoever) so my sins are forgiven.

However, if you’ve been an exemplary human being, honest, forthright, loving, compassionate, and don’t say the right words, you’re doomed for eternity.

Perhaps one of several reasons evil can exist. Just a thought.

September 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm
(15) Luo Ge says:

The existence of evil is not an argument against theism at all. It is my experience that I learn more about life and humanity when things are tough for me, and that I just cruise lazily when things are going nicely. I suspect a great many other people are the same. So, if this transitory life is seen as a kind of character-building preparatory school for the real life beyond it, then tough times, and evil, would simply be a necessary part of the lesson.

September 28, 2008 at 8:52 pm
(16) Austin Cline says:

So, if this transitory life is seen as a kind of character-building preparatory school for the real life beyond it, then tough times, and evil, would simply be a necessary part of the lesson.

Feel free to explain why it’s necessary that children be raped and murdered. What is it that they learn in those “tough times”? Perhaps you could come up with a convincing explanation for their parents. I’d love to hear it.

September 28, 2008 at 9:42 pm
(17) Luo Ge says:

I don’t have to explain any particular theory in full. All I was doing was showing that a simple “evil disproves God” argument will not stand up by itself. However, there are possible scenarios that could go some way to satisfying your qualms. For example, those children, or their parents, may have, in previous lives perpetrated similar evils on others, (there are. after all, countless examples of such behaviour throughout history) and are now experiencing for themselves what it is like for the victims. Or maybe they just needed to learn something about empathy for others going through devastating experiences. Who can say?

Your reaction seems a little like the “How can having my face rubbed in mud make me a better soldier?” response from a new recruit not enjoying his bootcamp experience.

September 29, 2008 at 6:08 am
(18) Austin Cline says:

I don’t have to explain any particular theory in full.

No one asked you to. However, you do obligate yourself to supporting your claims with more than just idle speculation.

All I was doing was showing that a simple “evil disproves God” argument will not stand up by itself.

No, you speculated that there could, in theory, be reasons why it wouldn’t.

However, there are possible scenarios that could go some way to satisfying your qualms. For example, those children, or their parents, may have, in previous lives perpetrated similar evils on others, (there are. after all, countless examples of such behaviour throughout history) and are now experiencing for themselves what it is like for the victims.

So, it’s the victims’ fault? They deserve it?

Or maybe they just needed to learn something about empathy for others going through devastating experiences. Who can say?

You should, if you are going to stand by your assertion.

September 29, 2008 at 8:35 am
(19) Luo Ge says:

It is you who are making an assertion. Despite your claim that “atheist” does not imply a belief, but rather a lack of belief, you are trying to promote an assertion of belief, that the existence of evil disproves the existence of a god. All I am doing is showing that you cannot rely on such an argument. I am showing that evil and God can be consistent, if the evil can be viewed simply an educational tool, like punishment for example (to which you seem to take some kind of horrified exception, rather than any kind of logical objection), or a kind of boot camp experience (also apparently subject to the same emotionally based objection). Now you are trying to insist that I should dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a full-blown theory of this kind, rather than simply lay a general field of many possibilities. It seems to be merely a ploy to disguise a lack of real argument in support of your own assertion.

You are ready elsewhere to let unknowns lie within the scope of any scientific theory, where scientific discovery has not yet made a full explanation of something (such as how the first living cell was made, or what a gravitational field is made of) and yet you ask me to provide an answer to my “Who can say” question, by way of an apparent attempt to decry my objection to your assertion, when the answer is in fact currently as unknowable as many other mysteries, and may even differ from individual case to individual case.

You should not shift your ground. Just as you expect a theist to carry the burden of proof when making an assertion that god can be demonstrated, so too you should expect an anti-theist, such as you are being by promoting your assertion that “evil disproves god”, to carry the burden of proof of such an assertion.

September 29, 2008 at 9:18 am
(20) Austin Cline says:

It is you who are making an assertion.

It is I who has described an argument, not an assertion.

The argument is that the existence of god is inconsistent with the existence of evil.

You have tried to offer a counter to this by saying that there may be some fact of existence which allows for the two to coexist.

For this counter to be valid, however, it isn’t enough for you to idly speculate that this may be a true fact of existence, but instead you have to be able to provide some sort of realistic reason to think it may be true. This isn’t a matter of providing a “fully blown theory” with all the details worked out, but rather of meeting minimal intellectual and ethical standards — namely, of doing more than speculating about possibilities which we have no apparent reason to take seriously.

Despite your claim that “atheist” does not imply a belief, but rather a lack of belief, you are trying to promote an assertion of belief, that the existence of evil disproves the existence of a god.

This position is independent of atheism and, as such, is not a “belief” that is in any way “part of” atheism.

All I am doing is showing that you cannot rely on such an argument.

You have asserted it, but idle speculation doesn’t do much.

I am showing that evil and God can be consistent, if the evil can be viewed simply an educational tool, like punishment for example

And that’s the idle speculation, unless of course you can demonstrate how this might be the case.

Now you are trying to insist that I should dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a full-blown theory of this kind, rather than simply lay a general field of many possibilities.

I just want to see if you can raise this above the level of idle, baseless speculation.

You are ready elsewhere to let unknowns lie within the scope of any scientific theory

Testable predications which have not yet been tested can indeed lie within the scope of scientific theory.

How is this remotely comparable to your speculations?

You should not shift your ground.

Feel free to show where I have shifted any ground — without trying to offer false analogies between scientific theories and idle speculation.

September 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm
(21) Luo Ge says:

First of all I will ignore the smokescreen and return to the original argument. Your introduction speaks enthusiastically of the idea that the existence of evil disproves the existence of god. Such an idea is an assertion, and bears the burden of proof (or of disproof, if you prefer). I have offered an alternative idea, and gave some examples of how it might work, that you will need to knock down if your assertion is to stand. So far, you have offered nothing to do that, apart from demand that I more strongly demonstrate the idea. Therefore, not having knocked down even a weak assertion of the alternative, you really cannot rely on the existence of evil as a means of disproving the existence of god.

Now to the smokescreen.
Any scientific theory begins its life as a speculative idea. many such speculative ideas are quickly knocked down, and those that survive become working theories which, in turn, may eventually get knocked down, or at least substantially modified (the Newtonian universe being a good example of this). Theories in the areas I mentioned in passing (living cell, gravitational field) remain for now in the area of speculation. Nowhere did I suggest that my idea was a scientific theory. All I said was that, if you cannot disprove my idea, then you have not proved the original assertion.

You seem to have a difficulty with the concept of “burden of proof”.

September 29, 2008 at 6:14 pm
(22) Austin Cline says:

Your introduction speaks enthusiastically of the idea that the existence of evil disproves the existence of god.

I wouldn’t say that describing it as “one of the strongest and most popular” is “enthusiastic.” To me, it’s simply an accurate description. Do you disagree? Which arguments do you think are stronger and/or more popular?

Such an idea is an assertion, and bears the burden of proof (or of disproof, if you prefer).

Wait, are you saying that I need to prove that the Argument from Evil is “one of the strongest and most popular arguments against the existence of God,” or what?

I have offered an alternative idea, and gave some examples of how it might work,

You offered one of the most common sorts of rebuttals against the Argument from Evil, but it’s a rebuttal that suffers from an equally common problem: merely speculating that X or Y might be a “reason” for evil which makes the existence of evil compatible with the existence of God does not suffice as an adequate rebuttal unless at least two conditions are met.

First, good reason must be offered to think that such X or Y might really exist as opposed to being idle speculation that exists nowhere but your own mind. Second, it must be possible to show that X or Y can justify anything like the amount of evil and suffering that we see rather than merely some of the evil or suffering we see. If we imagine that the amount of evil we have is 100 and X or Y could be achieved with an amount of evil of 90 or even 99, then we have unaccounted for evil that still allows the Argument from Evil to work.

Any scientific theory begins its life as a speculative idea.

True, but while still just a speculative idea, it’s not science.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with idle speculation, but if you having nothing more than that but expect it to be taken seriously as a rebuttal to an argument, then there is something wrong.

many such speculative ideas are quickly knocked down, and those that survive become working theories

Uh, no, you have it backwards. First evidence is amassed to show that there is more than just idle speculation, then tests are conducted to show that the speculation really is consistent evidence, then people look for ways to knock it down. It is absolutely incorrect to suggest that anyone proposes speculative ideas in the expectation that others will spend any time trying to knock them down and, if people don’t, then somehow those speculation somehow become “working theories.”

All I said was that, if you cannot disprove my idea, then you have not proved the original assertion.

I don’t have to disprove every idea that comes along. First, an idea has to be shown to be worth the time and effort to even consider, never mind work to support or disprove.

You seem to have a difficulty with the concept of “burden of proof”.

As do you, since “burden of proof” is applicable to factual assertions. You have made what is ostensibly a factual assertion which is up to you to support.

September 29, 2008 at 6:59 pm
(23) Luo Ge says:

Feel free to show where I said my idea was factual.

I merely offered an alternative possibility. There is nothing factual in the idea of disproving god. The existence of evil is factual, but there are many philosophical ideas (none of them factual) to attempt to explain why evil might exist. To call upon them as a “proof” that there is no god is to pull a rather long bow.

September 29, 2008 at 7:22 pm
(24) Austin Cline says:

Feel free to show where I said my idea was factual.

I didn’t say you did, I said you made what was ostensibly a factual assertion — i.e., a possible state of actual affairs. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. The challenge I keep putting to you is whether that is anything more than idle speculation.

If not, then it’s not a legitimate rebuttal to the argument that needs to be taken seriously.

If so, then you need to be able to show how and why.

There is nothing factual in the idea of disproving god. The existence of evil is factual, but there are many philosophical ideas (none of them factual) to attempt to explain why evil might exist.

So there is nothing factual in the idea of disproving god, but the evil that is used in the Argument from Evil is factual?

You’re right that there are attempts to argue that the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of a god, but those attempts are not successful unless the aforementioned conditions are met.

To call upon them as a “proof” that there is no god is to pull a rather long bow.

First, you’re the only one here who has used the term “proof” (excepting where I have quoted you).

Second, you still have yet to show that the argument fails. Idle speculations about states of affairs which allegedly harmonize the contradiction in question don’t qualify as substantive rebuttals.

If you want to dispute the argument, you should try to do so on the basis of sound, serious arguments backed up by facts, not speculations about possibilities that are ultimately question-begging because they are at least as disputable as the “god” concept being debated.

If the only way to “rescue” the concept of a god is to build even more dubious castles in the sky, then frankly it’s time to just admit that the concept is lost and move on to more worthwhile matters.

September 29, 2008 at 9:48 pm
(25) Luo Ge says:

How is “the presence of evil proves the absence of god” any more than idle speculation? It purports to be a serious statement (“proves” is a rather strong assertion), but there is no substance in it.

September 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm
(26) Luo Ge says:

And, as to the assertion that the initial concept of a God is itself dubious, it is no more dubious than the concept that there is no god. This is a remarkably well-functioning world, for example. Who can say for sure that it was not planned that way? Gods, in one form or another, are part of the mythology of every culture that I know of. Who is to say that the stories do not represent somebody’s real experience. They serve as explanations of a sort, for many things that science still has no answers for (and to have faith that science will one day answer them from a purely material basis is no different in kind from faith that the answer will be found in something godlike – but this is treading into a rather wider debate than the premise under discussion here).

So, to operate always from the viewpoint that the person arguing for theism should prove his case over the one who is arguing against it is somewhat to beg the question. Most people, alas, fall into the intellectual arrogance of the kind that says: “What I believe is correct – therefore it is up to the other person to prove otherwise.”

So, to avoid falling into this trap of arrogance, whatever your starting point, it is better to demand proof only when somebody says that they have proof, which is what anyone bandying about your original phrase would be doing.

September 30, 2008 at 6:22 am
(27) Austin Cline says:

How is “the presence of evil proves the absence of god” any more than idle speculation?

I’m not aware of anyone who says that without referencing the more comprehensive argument behind it. Are you familiar with that argument?

And, as to the assertion that the initial concept of a God is itself dubious, it is no more dubious than the concept that there is no god.

Feel free to show how on the basis of something other than the Argument from Personal Incredulity, which is all your design argument amounts to.

So, to operate always from the viewpoint that the person arguing for theism should prove his case over the one who is arguing against it is somewhat to beg the question.

No, the person making the claim shoulders the primary burden of proof, not the person who happens to not accept that claim.

Most people, alas, fall into the intellectual arrogance of the kind that says: “What I believe is correct – therefore it is up to the other person to prove otherwise.”

Well, that’s precisely how you behave when you insist that it’s the job of others to disprove whatever speculations you are offering as rebuttals to serious arguments.

September 30, 2008 at 7:06 am
(28) Luo Ge says:

The primary claim here is the claim under discussion, Which is the proposition that evil disproves god, and yet you refuse to accept that it has any burden of proof, despite claiming just now that the person making the claim shoulders the primary burden of proof, and while demanding a burden of proof from theists who merely repeat what countless millions of people over the ages have assumed from their observations to be true. Do you not think that you might be a little biased?

And the same applies to your claim that my idea is mere speculation while yours is a serious argument. By what measure do you judge that? Clearly not an impartial one.

You make a veiled reference to “comprehensive argument behind your claim” – which might refer to any of a number of philosophical viewpoints. There is, similarly, a lot of philosophical argument to accommodate the idea of evil alongside the idea of God. On what basis should the side you favour be preferred over the one you do not, and continue to assert that you have no burden of proof?

In the statement “The existence of evil disproves the existence of god” there is a claim of proof. Where is the evidence that is so strong that it could be called a proof?

And in offering speculations as rebuttals to serious arguments, as you call them, you have not demonstrated a single serious argument, or any evidence that the “speculation” is any less worthy of consideration.

You want to talk about proving (which “disproving” is a form of), then it is up to you to provide the proof. Merely decrying an alternative viewpoint by calling it mere speculation, which is all you have done so far, achieves nothing towards demonstrating that proof. You provide a proof, and then I might consider attempting a rebuttal. Until then, there is nothing to rebut.

In your post 24, by the way, you said that you made no mention of “proof” except by way of quoting my use of it. But it was your initial proposition that talked of proof (in using the word “disproves”, which simply means “proves to be false”), and my use of the word was merely by way of reference to that. It seems a little strange, therefore, that you should have tried to twist it around the other way, or to have claimed not to have mentioned it. Or do you actually think that “disproving” is not a kind of proof?

September 30, 2008 at 7:29 am
(29) Austin Cline says:

The primary claim here is the claim under discussion, Which is the proposition that evil disproves god

That’s not a claim, it’s a conclusion from an argument. If you understand the difference between a claim and the conclusion of an argument, and if you understand what the argument in question is, then you understand that it’s incoherent to go on and on about a “burden of proof”.

while demanding a burden of proof from theists who merely repeat what countless millions of people over the ages have assumed from their observations to be true.

Argument from Numbers fallacy, not much better than the Argument from Personal Incredulity.

Do you not think that you might be a little biased?

Oh, everyone is biased, but bias isn’t the problem here. The problem is that you are demanding “proof” for the conclusion of an argument as if it were a unsubstantiated claim.

You make a veiled reference to “comprehensive argument behind your claim” – which might refer to any of a number of philosophical viewpoints.

No, the Argument from Evil is a fairly specific argument — or class of closely related and similar arguments, if you want to be technical. To say that it could be “any of a number of philosophical viewpoints” suggests very strongly that you just don’t know what the argument is. I asked if you do or not, just in case, but for some reason you didn’t answer.

On what basis should the side you favour be preferred over the one you do not, and continue to assert that you have no burden of proof?

The existence of the argument, what the argument says, and the fact that the conclusion of an argument is not a claim are not “my side,” they are independent facts.

In the statement “The existence of evil disproves the existence of god” there is a claim of proof.

Whom are you qouting?

You want to talk about proving (which “disproving” is a form of), then it is up to you to provide the proof.

Once again, I am forced to point out that you are the only one who has been talking about “proof” here.

Merely decrying an alternative viewpoint by calling it mere speculation, which is all you have done so far, achieves nothing towards demonstrating that proof.

The post here was written under the assumption that readers would be familiar with what the Argument from Evil is — what it says, its strengths, its weaknesses, how it’s used, etc. If you lack such knowledge, there’s nothing wrong with that but you should ask some questions to get better informed. Once you do understand what the argument is, perhaps you can offer responses which are substantive rather than mere speculation.

You provide a proof, and then I might consider attempting a rebuttal.

So what was your reason for attempting a rebuttal above?

In your post 24, by the way, you said that you made no mention of “proof” except by way of quoting my use of it. But it was your initial proposition that talked of proof (in using the word “disproves”, which simply means “proves to be false”)

No, my question to others asks if they think the existence of evil disproves the existence of gods.

A proposition is something that is affirmed as true — a more formal word for “claim”. A question is an interrogative that states some problem for discussion or requests information.

Propositions and questions are completely different things, much like how claims and conclusions of arguments are completely different things.

September 30, 2008 at 9:54 am
(30) Luo Ge says:

The “Argument of Evil” is no more than assertion of the claim that evil and God cannot co-exist – i.e. that Evil disproves God. There does not seem to be any evidence to support it, or anything that could actually be said to do the “disproving”. Different people have thrown different arguments at it, but I do not see how it can be described as the conclusion of a reasoned set of arguments. It is just an assertion, sometimes based on a set of similar assertions.

What you tritely referred to as an “Argument from Numbers fallacy” was not an argument for the existence of God, which you appeared to assume it to be. It was merely to illustrate that there is no strong basis for being able to claim non-belief in God as a kind of default position immune from burdens of proof, given that so many people would not have seen it as that. (Such non-belief, does after all, imply a readiness to believe that there is an alternative explanation for absolutely everything.) Nowhere in this discussion has there been any argument for the existence of God, but merely suggestions that the idea is not ready to be dismissed out of hand, particularly not by merely pointing to the existence of evil. I am not sure that any argument for god’s existence can be sustained either, but that is a separate matter. The discussion has only been about the idea that evil disproves god, and my suggestion that as long as other explanations are possible (not necessarily provable, but merely possible), of which I gave an example, then there is no disproof in that idea. That is as much rebuttal as is needed, until the alternative explanations have been removed by logical argument.

There has been no attempt to refute that suggestion, other than to pour scorn on it. There has certainly been no logical argument presented, or pointed to, to support the alleged “disproof”.

So, one could say that, in response to your question whether the existence of evil disproves god, then the answer has to be “no”, exactly as I stated in my first post.

September 30, 2008 at 10:24 am
(31) Austin Cline says:

The “Argument of Evil” is no more than assertion of the claim that evil and God cannot co-exist – i.e. that Evil disproves God.

Feel free to show how the argument isn’t really an argument. I look forward to your explanation about how it fails to fulfill the necessary characteristics of what makes an argument a genuine argument.

What you tritely referred to as an “Argument from Numbers fallacy” was not an argument for the existence of God, which you appeared to assume it to be.

No, I didn’t assume that. I was simply pointing out that it’s a fallacy to treat the number of people believing the truth of some proposition as any reason to treat that proposition as self-evident enough to not expect people to provide evidence or logic in support of it.

It was merely to illustrate that there is no strong basis for being able to claim non-belief in God as a kind of default position immune from burdens of proof

Disbelief in gods is in fact the default position we all start out with. Propositions don’t somehow become immune from having to be supported merely because they are popular. To suggest otherwise is to commit the Argument form Numbers fallacy.

The discussion has only been about the idea that evil disproves god, and my suggestion that as long as other explanations are possible (not necessarily provable, but merely possible), of which I gave an example, then there is no disproof in that idea.

As I have pointed out, speculations about what might be possible or not do not suffice as rebuttals to any argument, not just the one in question. In this case, such an attempt at a rebuttal has to fulfill two conditions before it can be taken seriously. Until such a time, all you have are idle speculations about possible states of affairs which might or might not allow for the proposed contradiction to be lifted.

There has been no attempt to refute that suggestion, other than to pour scorn on it.

There is no need to “refute” idle speculations. It’s up to the claimant to provide reasons to take their speculations seriously.

There has certainly been no logical argument presented

As I already explained, I this post was written in the expectation that readers would be familiar with the logical argument in question. There is no need to “present” it if people are familiar with it and simply being asked what they think of it. If you’re not familiar with the argument, just say so.

So, one could say that, in response to your question whether the existence of evil disproves god, then the answer has to be “no”, exactly as I stated in my first post.

Well, that’s not the question, so you are trying to offer an answer to a question that wasn’t asked.

Speaking of “first posts,” your actual first post on this site was to implicitly deny that all religions have a “dark side” and that Buddhism doesn’t have a history of violence. I pointed out how and why this was incorrect and you… well, you never responded. Here you also fail to respond to a number of challenges put to you, for example questions about whether you even know what the Argument from Evil is, whom you think you are quoting, you confusing between a claim and a conclusion or between proposition and a question, and so forth.

September 30, 2008 at 6:05 pm
(32) Luo Ge says:

“Disbelief in gods is in fact the default position we all start out with.”

Oh? How so?

September 30, 2008 at 6:15 pm
(33) Luo says:

I do not wish to get into a protracted dispute about semantics. You put up the proposition that “evil disproves god”. I presented an argument that seems to me show that the alleged disproof does not exist, and you dismiss it as mere “idle speculation”.

Yet you have not pointed to anything to support the alleged disproof either, and so it too could be considered idle speculation. The fact that others have discussed it also does not lend it any weight. (Did I hear someone say “Argument from Numbers fallacy”, or was that just an echo?)

September 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm
(34) Luo Ge says:

Re the Buddhism comment, I don’t recall saying that – it must have been a while ago, and was presumably overtaken by life events that pushed it below the radar. If you can let me know where to find it, I will see whether a response might be in order.

September 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm
(35) Austin Cline says:

“Disbelief in gods is in fact the default position we all start out with.”

Oh? How so?

We can’t identify any evidence, even slight or indirect, that we are born with any sort of knowledge of propositions about the existence of gods, never mind actively believing “god X” in particular exists.

You put up the proposition that “evil disproves god”.

Feel free to quote me saying that. This is at least the second time you’ve purported to quote me on this, always with different wording, but despite being asked to cite where this quote comes from you just keep repeating it.

I presented an argument that seems to me show that the alleged disproof does not exist, and you dismiss it as mere “idle speculation”.

No, you still don’t seem to understand what an “argument” is. An argument is a connected series of proposition designed to establish the truth of a conclusion. Speculating about possible states of affairs that might or might not exist and which, if they do, might or might not resolve an argued-for contradiction, does not and cannot constitute a counter-argument to anything.

The best you can hope to say is that you offered a claim, but that might be problematic because if you admit that you made a claim, then that claim will be subjected to a burden of proof which you have previously said exists for claims.

Yet you have not pointed to anything to support the alleged disproof either

Once again, this post was written in the expectation that readers would be familiar enough with the argument to answer the question. If you don’t know what the argument is, you only have to say so.

Do you know what the argument is? Are you familiar with the forms it can take, its strengths, its weaknesses, and some of the major objections to it?

The fact that others have discussed it also does not lend it any weight. (Did I hear someone say “Argument from Numbers fallacy”, or was that just an echo?)

I haven’t tried to argue that the existence of discussions of the argument among other people can or should be taken as lending the argument any weight. People who are familiar with the argument are also familiar with its strengths and weaknesses — and that these are quite independent of who does or does not discuss it.

I notice that you haven’t explained how the Argument from Evil isn’t a genuine argument, despite being invited to do so. You don’t retract the claim, either.

I notice that you don’t retract or modify the implication that the number of people who believe the truth of a proposition is somehow relevant to whether those believers should have to support their claims.

I notice you still don’t provide any reasons to take seriously your speculations about states of affairs which might or might not exist, but which you think might — if they exist — refute the contradiction that lies at the heart of an argument you’ve displayed no familiarity with.

I notice you haven’t tried to work out your confusion between a claim and a proposition or between a question and a proposition.

In sum, I notice a pattern of you making assertions that get challenged, but ignoring those challenges in all future comments. Sometimes you repeat the original assertions in slightly different words and sometimes you just ignore the issue entirely, moving on to new claims which get challenged. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I’m wondering if you think that ignoring challenges to your claims constitutes a legitimate way to hold a conversation.

Re the Buddhism comment, I don’t recall saying that – it must have been a while ago, and was presumably overtaken by life events that pushed it below the radar. If you can let me know where to find it, I will see whether a response might be in order.

It was a little more than a month before your first comment on this post.

September 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm
(36) Luo Ge says:

“We can’t identify any evidence, even slight or indirect, that we are born with any sort of knowledge of propositions about the existence of gods… ”

We cannot go through life without forming any opinion at all. Without a philosophy of life of some sort, it is difficult to have any kind of framework from which to function. And I hear young children saying “Who made the world?”, not “What physical forces made the world?”, which suggests that if any one position should be identified as the default, then the one that mankind grew up with, that there is some kind of god, should not be so readily dismissed from contention.

If someone claims merely to have no belief about god, what difference does it make to them that others do have such a belief, whether positive or negative? They are perfectly at liberty to ignore all such claims from wither side.

Right at the top of this page there is a heading that includes the words “Does the Existence of Ecvil Disprove God?” So it was you who first mentioned anything to do with proof. I am not sure why you keep asking me to find your own heading for you.

Then, at the end of the first paragraph you ask: “Do you agree that it’s the strongest atheological argument or is there something better?” Which suggests that you expect there to be an atheological argument that could be effective.

I simply responded to that heading with a “No” answer, and gave an example to support my “No”. THere was nothing more complicated than that. I have yet to hear of any example, or argument, or anything else, to support any other answer. Instead, you keep taking the argument off into other areas, asking me to go into full semantic discussions about things that don’t affect the outcome, if the simple question, of how to dispose of an alternative possible explanation for the co-existence of god(s) and evil, cannot be answered.

Putting an alternative scenario that cannot be explained away works for an accused man pleading not guilty in a court of law. Why are you insisting on a different standard here? (Without even presenting a case for the proposition that your heading asks about.)

As to the “Argument from Evil”, feel free to reference any supporting evidence that suggests there might be some validity to it. You keep asking me to substantiate an argument against a mere assertion, claiming it to be a well-supported argement in itself. If it is indeed a well-supported argument, as you say, then surely they will already have dealt with objections of the kind I raised. Show me where.

I will respond to a challenge if I can see that it is relevant. I have said that I do not wish to get bogged down in semantics. Nor do I wish to waste a whole heap of time on mere side issues that are beside the point. As far as I can see, there is a very simple issue here. Your heading asks a question about a straightforward proposition. I gave a straightforward negative answer to the question, along with an example that appears to support the negative answer. Anything else is side issues. Nothing that you have said since has undermined my original position. If you think I am wrong, please show me where.

And, yes, the Buddhism comment was eclipsed by a funeral.

October 1, 2008 at 6:37 am
(37) Austin Cline says:

We cannot go through life without forming any opinion at all.

True, but I’m not sure how you think that is relevant to newborn infants.

if any one position should be identified as the default, then the one that mankind grew up with,

The default for us, as individuals, is the one we all start with as newborns, not whatever we are taught later on as we grow up.

If someone claims merely to have no belief about god, what difference does it make to them that others do have such a belief, whether positive or negative?

Are you suggesting that belief in gods has no social, political, or economic consequences that nonbelievers should have any interest in?

Right at the top of this page there is a heading that includes the words “Does the Existence of Ecvil Disprove God?” So it was you who first mentioned anything to do with proof.

And I already explained to you that this is a question, not a proposition as you originally described it. Are you still having trouble with the difference?

I simply responded to that heading with a “No” answer, and gave an example to support my “No”.

You offered a speculation about a possible state of affairs which might or might not be true and, if true, which might or might not resolve the contradiction in question. If you want this speculation to be treated as a serious objection to the argument, you’ll need to raise it above the level of idle speculation.

I have yet to hear of any example, or argument, or anything else, to support any other answer.

You have yet to show that you even understand what the original argument is.

Putting an alternative scenario that cannot be explained away works for an accused man pleading not guilty in a court of law.

Not unless the alternative has more evidence supporting it than the prosecution’s argument.

As to the “Argument from Evil”, feel free to reference any supporting evidence that suggests there might be some validity to it.

If you are familiar with it, then you are already familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. So, please do explain which of its weakness you consider most relevant.

I will respond to a challenge if I can see that it is relevant.

Then I guess you never consider it relevant when you are challenged to support anything you say. You have been given very direct and simple challenges to support very direct and straightforward assertions and you have simply ignored them.

Your heading asks a question about a straightforward proposition.

I see you’re still having trouble understanding the difference between an argument and a proposition.

October 1, 2008 at 6:33 pm
(38) Luo Ge says:

Again, there is no attempt to show how evil can possibly be a proof for there being no god. It might be an argument against a Santa Claus type of god, but can it possibly be any more than that? I don’t think so, and there appears to be nothing to support such an idea.

Arguing about semantics, such as the difference between an argument and a proposition, does nothing to advance the real debate either way, and appears to be a smokescreen to hide the lack of logical steps between the idea of evil, and the idea of whether or not there is a god.

To adopt any position as a “default” position is a form of question-begging, and will inevitably prejudice the outcome. This debate is in the area of philosophy, where real proofs are few and far between. So to adopt one’s own position as “default” and then use that to show that nothing else can be proved is mere sophistry.

And still, we have no logical argument, either on this page, or anywhere else, to show that the presence of evil can possibly prove that there is no god. That is a simple statement, directly addresses the question at the top of the page, and does not require any of the duck-shoving, semantic hair-splitting, or anything else that passes for reasoned debate here.

October 1, 2008 at 6:51 pm
(39) Austin Cline says:

Again, there is no attempt to show how evil can possibly be a proof for there being no god.

This post was written in the expectation that readers would be familiar with the argument.

It might be an argument against a Santa Claus type of god, but can it possibly be any more than that?

People who are familiar with the argument are familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t think so, and there appears to be nothing to support such an idea.

Are you familiar with the argument?

Arguing about semantics, such as the difference between an argument and a proposition, does nothing to advance the real debate either way

It’s not merely an argument about “semantics” when you consistently make conceptual and terminological errors so fundamental that the impression is raised that you have no idea what you are talking about. For example, you didn’t merely mix up the terms “proposition” and “argument,” but expected “evidence” to support the conclusion of an argument in a way that suggested that you simply didn’t understand the difference between a claim and a conclusion.

Complaining about “arguing about semantics’ does nothing to remove that impression.

To adopt any position as a “default” position is a form of question-begging

Not unless there is no default position at all. So long as knowledge of and belief in a proposition must be taught, disbelief in that proposition is always necessarily the default starting point.

And still, we have no logical argument, either on this page, or anywhere else, to show that the presence of evil can possibly prove that there is no god.

So, you’re admitting that you have no idea what the Argument from Evil is? Are you admitting that you’ve never heard of it, never read it in any of its forms, have no conception of its strengths and weaknesses, and therefore have no idea how to substantively respond to it?

October 1, 2008 at 8:28 pm
(40) Luo Ge says:

What is wrong with a philosophical starting point of “no default”? It would simply mean that if anybody states a belief, then that is fine – it is their right to believe what they want. Then, if they say either “I want you to believe it too”, or “I want you to act in accordance with my belief”, than that is the point at which they pick up a burden of proof.

We all see the world through the filters of our own experience. Clearly your experience of life has some important differences from mine, and so we each have different positions that seem obvious to us (obviousness being a quality that is very much in the eyes of the beholder). It would not be reasonable for me to expect you to adopt my starting position as your own, and it is just as unreasonable for you to expect me to adopt your starting position as my own.

Trying to define a particular starting position as a neutral default position that is fair to all is not easy. For example, one person might say:”I believe there is a god, who has these characteristics …”, and that would be a proposition that takes him off the “no default” starting block, and there should beno problem with that. Another person might say: “I believe that there is a mechanistic explanation for everything, that will one day be found and explained,” and that too is a proposition that takes him off the “no default” starting block, again without a problem. It becomes a problem only when one of them tries to persuade the other of the presumed error of his ways, and it is the one trying to do the persuading that will carry the burden of proof.

I do not see what difference it makes to this specific question what my level of familiarisation with the “argument from evil” might be. As it happens, I have encountered the argument a number of times in the past, and it has never appealed to me as having any serious merit. But my personal awareness or otherwise of the arguments, or any other characteristic of my mental state, does not change the outcome of this specific question, that no logical steps have been found, here or elsewhere, to firmly link the existence of evil with the proposition that there is no god. That is why I have not bothered before now to answer your questions about it. There have been a lot of emotive statements in the past to try and substantiate the argument from evil, based on a preconceived idea of what the god Should be doing if he were to exist (as if the person making such a claim had some kind of omniscient wisdom about what a god should do) but no actual logical link has been made.

You have asserted that questions of semantics make a difference to this debate. If you wish me to accept that, then you have a burden of proof.

Just as an aside, whenever the argument from evil does arise, I am reminded of an acquaintance many years ago who remarked: “I don’t know about these atheists. They tell me they do not believe in god, but then they do go on at length about the particular characteristics of the god they don’t believe in.”

October 1, 2008 at 8:49 pm
(41) Austin Cline says:

What is wrong with a philosophical starting point of “no default”? It would simply mean that if anybody states a belief, then that is fine

Except that the absence of any given belief always comes before the presence of that belief. Ergo, the absence of a belief is necessarily the original default.

It would not be reasonable for me to expect you to adopt my starting position as your own, and it is just as unreasonable for you to expect me to adopt your starting position as my own.

Pointing out that the absence of a belief is not saying that you should go back to that default. It’s merely pointing out that, in having moved beyond the default, you should have some good reason for doing so.

Trying to define a particular starting position as a neutral default position that is fair to all is not easy.

That isn’t the point. The default isn’t a position that’s described because it is “fair to us all,” it’s simply where we started. Maybe it is fair; maybe it isn’t fair. Whether it is or isn’t just isn’t relevant. All that’s relevant is that it’s where we all started and where we would all be absent some influence or force that caused a change.

I do not see what difference it makes to this specific question what my level of familiarisation with the “argument from evil” might be.

Well, if you have absolutely no idea what it is, wouldn’t that undermine any credibility you have in your attempts to address it?

If I tried to critique your beliefs, but it was revealed that I had no clue what those beliefs were, would you really accept my insistence that it should make no difference? Of course not, you’d laugh at me — as well you should.

As it happens, I have encountered the argument a number of times in the past, and it has never appealed to me as having any serious merit.

Feel free to explain the weaknesses you see in it.

But my personal awareness or otherwise of the arguments, or any other characteristic of my mental state, does not change the outcome of this specific question, that no logical steps have been found, here or elsewhere, to firmly link the existence of evil with the proposition that there is no god.

Well, that’s a fairly specific claim. The Argument from Evil is a formal argument that attempts to create very specific logical links between propositions and conclusions.

So, since you have encountered it multiple times in the past and do not believe that the inferences in the argument are valid logical links, then you shouldn’t have any problem explaining how and why those inferences are invalid. Feel free to pick whichever form of the argument you feel most comfortable discussing.

There have been a lot of emotive statements in the past to try and substantiate the argument from evil, based on a preconceived idea of what the god Should be doing if he were to exist

The Argument from Evil always starts out by specifying certain characteristics of the god under discussion… so, is part of your argument here that no god with those characteristic should be expected to behave in the manner that the argument describes? That should be fairly easy to explain.

You have asserted that questions of semantics make a difference to this debate. If you wish me to accept that, then you have a burden of proof.

I’ll repeat what I already said, since you failed to address it directly: you didn’t merely mix up the terms “proposition” and “argument,” but expected “evidence” to support the conclusion of an argument in a way that suggested that you simply didn’t understand the difference between a claim and a conclusion.

I’ll add: if you can’t tell the difference between a claim and a conclusion, any attempts by you to critique a formal argument can’t be taken very seriously. If that’s the case, that make a big difference in evaluating your attempts to critique an argument which you have, thus far, demonstrated absolutely no knowledge of.

Just as an aside, whenever the argument from evil does arise, I am reminded of an acquaintance many years ago who remarked: “I don’t know about these atheists. They tell me they do not believe in god, but then they do go on at length about the particular characteristics of the god they don’t believe in.”

This acquaintance of your doesn’t strike me as very intelligent because they appear to be completely ignorant of the fact that the Argument from Evil is carefully constructed to focus on characteristics commonly offered by believers of the god they claim exists. It’s believers who “go on at length” about their god; it shouldn’t be objectionable for nonbelievers to take some of those characteristics and put them under the metaphorical microscope.

October 2, 2008 at 7:06 am
(42) Luo Ge says:

“Except that the absence of any given belief always comes before the presence of that belief. Ergo, the absence of a belief is necessarily the original default.”

Except that the phenomenon of young children asking “Who made the world?” does suggest that the actual starting point may be that there is an original intelligence. Certainly, their starting point is not sophistic philosophic niceties. Simply declaring one’s own position to be a default position, and simultaneously choosing one’s own arguments to be the basis on which the decision should be made, is a little arrogant, whatever apparent justification you might think you have for it.

I mentioned recently two different propositions that might be used in the course of trying to explain the world, the “god(s)” idea, and the “mechanistic” one. Maybe there are others, but I cannot think of one right now – maybe you can. Both of those ideas require theorising about unknown things. I think most full philosophies would include some form of one or other of those. To arbitrarily choose one of them to be default, and the other to be the proposition that needs to be proven, is not reasonable, although I know that proponents on both sides of the argument have tried to do so, and felt justified in doing so.

As to the argument from evil, it states, in essence, that a nice god would not allow bad things to happen to us, or allow us to do bad things to each other. But how can we know what a god would think of what we perceive as evil? To recall an example I used in an earlier post, a nice drill sergeant would not allow his recruits to get cold feet or feel hungry or experience any kind of pain. Does that mean, therefore, that we should claim that there is no drill sergeant?

There are many reasons for conjecturing that there might be a god. One of them I already mentioned, which you called “the argument from personal incredulity”. Simply labelling an idea does not in any way either enhance or diminish it – it only creates the appearance of doing so. As I said, this is a remarkably well functioning world. I don’t know of anything else that is so remarkably well functioning that was not specifically designed to be so. It is reasonable, therefore, to wonder whether there might be a designer. If you are willing to believe that the first living cell, with a nucleus equipped with a functioning set of DNA, and a surrounding endoplasm with the necessary nutrients, and all the other mechanisms necessary for it to operate (which seem more and more complex as time goes by, as more is discovered of cellular biology) all came together by chance, and then stayed together long enough to have a membrane wrapped around it to prevent all those various components from wandering off again on their own, and then was kick-started from dead matter into life, purely by some blind mechanistic process, then you are a braver man than I am.

So you don’t need to bother with the counter-argument that “at least there is evidence to support the notion of a drill sergeant, but none for a god”, because it is simply not so. The evidence for the drill sergeant may be more concrete, but that is all.

Similarly, if you believe that the characteristics of a god, as proposed by any particular religion, are any kind of adequate description of what an actual god might be like, then again, you have more faith than I do. It would be like a dog trying to adequately describe his human (who is like a god to him). So, to criticise a god because there is this phenomenon that we perceive as evil is to suggest that we are so intelligent and wise that we are capable of understanding the god, and that we disapprove. A wee bit arrogant don’t you think?

We look at the whole of life from the perspective of one short span of a few dozen years. But the world around us is much older than that, and may be expected to last a lot longer yet. To complain of a rough deal in this short segment, and that god is unfair, and that we could do a better job if we were in god’s position, seems a little like the five-year-old child who complains that his parents never allow him enough sweets, and that when he grows up, he will let all children eat as many sweets as they want.

There are several possible reasons for the existence of evil, such as to build our moral fibre, or cause us to develop strategies to overcome it, or to teach us the negative consequences of things we have done in earlier lives (and even if most of us are not aware consciously of those earlier lives, the soul-entity that would survive from one life to the next, according to this particular viewpoint, will be aware of it).

It is fair to say that we do not like the existence of evil, or that it can seem to us that we are getting a raw deal. We can even say that if there is a god, then we do not like what he/it/she is doing, or that it seems likely that there isn’t one, certainly not one that we can understand or relate to. But to go so far as to say that evil disproves god, that is first of all supreme intellectual arrogance (in that we claim to have all the understanding that a god might have) and secondly that if god exists, then he/it/she will have such-and-such qualities, but we don’t see them, therefore we don’t think that that god exists. Does the government exist? There are certainly plenty of criticisms that state that the government falls short of what it ought to be, no matter which country you are in. So, maybe the government is merely the figment of deluded people’s imagination. In reality, such arguments have just as much effect on the reality or otherwise of government, as the corresponding ones do on the reality or otherwise of a god or gods.

Some might argue that this short and seemingly unfair physical lifespan is all we get, but do we really know that? This is another of those great unknowns, and, again, it might be argued the the default position, if you are sure you want to have one, is that there is more to life than these few decades. First of all, again, it is commonly accepted in pretty much all original cultures and, secondly, observing young children at play, if they are old enough to have any sort of concept of death, then when someone “dies” in their games, they simply get up again, brush themselves off, and carry on, apparently expecting that that is what will happen at death. So, should that innocent child approach not perhaps be the default for anybody who insists on having one?

The world is full of human stories of experiences that suggest that there is survival. There may not be watertight proof of it, but there have been many suggestions of it. Can anybody prove that the suggestions of it are all incorrect? We simply, each of us, make of it what we can. Some find it simpler just to dismiss those stories as nonsense, some consider that probably most of them are nonsense, but there are a few that seem compelling, some find some measure of hope in them, and some find that their own experiences of those things are pretty compelling for themselves, even if not for others. Nobody it is a position to say categorically that they are all correct, or that they are all incorrect. But the fact that those stories exist, and that some find them compelling, and also that there are similarities in them from one culture to another, means that it cannot be argued willy-nilly that they are a random creation, to be believed or disbelieved in the same way as one might believe or disbelieve in a notional teapot in orbit around Mars for which there is no reason to conjecture.

So, each of us takes whatever view seems the most reasonable to us, which may be at odds with what seems the most reasonable to another, but when did all humans ever agree on anything?

And when an atheist wants to go on about the qualities of a god he does not agree with, it would be useful if he checked first that his audience thought that the god he was criticising was in any way similar to their own belief. In my experience, it is usually a “straw man” argument that is way off target. I think the acquaintance I mentioned in my last post was simply exasperated at the painfully cartoon-like notion of god that the critics were chipping at.

There are theoretical niceties that are bandied about by proponents of the argument from evil, but they are essentially meaningless. For example, if we do not know what the reason is that god should allow evil then how do we know that there is one. The answer is that we don’t (just as the five-year-old child has no way of knowing the all the reasons for what his parents do). We can only speculate. However, that does not affect whether or not the god exists. It merely affirms that we cannot know everything about him.

Another argument concerns evil that befalls other beings. If some terrible calamity is visited upon an animal when no human being around, then how does that affect our development. Again, the answer is that it doesn’t. It will have an effect, which again we cannot pontificate about, on the animal. Are we in a position to speculate on what the deal is for animals, or whether there is one? Whatever we may say about that, it still says nothing about whether or not there is a god.

There is another, somewhat childish, argument that states that if evil is indeed necessary for our character development, then we should not intervene to rescue anyone suffering from an evil situation, because that would negate the necessary character lesson. It does not take much imagination to see that this argument is absurd, and see that our ability to do the rescuing is more likely to be part of the deal, and that it is part of our process too, to learn how and when to act to overcome the evil that we can.

I could go on, but this is getting rather long and tedious. The arguments are trite, and, they do not actually address the question of a god’s existence, however much you may aver that they do. They are simply a mess of whining that god is not the action hero santa claus we might like him to be in our more childish imaginings.

My invitation to you to point out any part of the whole sorry mess that actually creates a logical link between the existence of evil, and the non-existence of god, still stands.

So, it all comes to just a long-winded (at Mr Cline’s repeated request, which I think was simply a ploy for him to find more ammunition to fire at me in order to try and prove me wrong, or from which to create yet more semantic smoke screens with which to try and create the appearance that he has proved me wrong) way of saying that my original statement still stands, that there is simply no justification for using the existence of evil to claim one has “proved” the non-existence of god.

October 2, 2008 at 7:57 am
(43) Austin Cline says:

Except that the phenomenon of young children asking “Who made the world?” does suggest that the actual starting point may be that there is an original intelligence.

If children already believed in a god, they wouldn’t be asking that question.

Certainly, their starting point is not sophistic philosophic niceties.

Certainly, no one claimed otherwise.

I mentioned recently two different propositions that might be used in the course of trying to explain the world, the “god(s)” idea, and the “mechanistic” one.

And it wasn’t relevant to the above post.

As to the argument from evil, it states, in essence, that a nice god would not allow bad things to happen to us, or allow us to do bad things to each other.

There is quite a lot more to it. I’ll pay attention to your attempts to address it when you address an actual argument, not a simplification you make up on your own.

There are many reasons for conjecturing that there might be a god.

None of which are relevant to the above post.

I did not, by the way “simply label” your design argument. Your argument is based on nothing more than exactly what I said: personal incredulity. You even repeat that more explicitly this time. When you base a position on “I can’t imagine how it could be otherwise,” you abandon serious argument.

Similarly, if you believe that the characteristics of a god, as proposed by any particular religion, are any kind of adequate description of what an actual god might be like, then again, you have more faith than I do.

People familiar with atheological arguments realize that this is a false description of the situation. The only “gods” there are to discuss are whatever “gods” believers propose — including their alleged characteristics. So, if one is going to test these alleged gods internally or against external facts, the only way to do it is to use the characteristics offered by believers. To make up new characteristics would be to commit the straw man fallacy at best. We don’t want atheists making up gods with characteristics that don’t match those of the audience, do we? No, of course not. That would be a wee bit arrogant.

There are several possible reasons for the existence of evil

If you have something more than idle speculation to offer, feel free to do so. The ideas you have tried to offer are known as “theodicies” and have been addressed in the context of debates over the Argument from Evil, but you reveal no knowledge of this.

I could go on, but this is getting rather long and tedious.

What is principally tedious is your failure to address anything relevant. You go on at length about matters that have nothing to do with the post then, when you do get to the topic, you simply expand on previous errors: idle speculations backed up by nothing substantive and repetitions of positions which reveal no knowledge whatsoever of the background arguments.

I never asked you to post anything long, just post something substantive and relevant – and you can do that quickly if you actually know what you are talking about. A version of the Argument from Evil can be stated in fewer than a dozen short statements and an explanation of where some inference fails logically could be stated in a short paragraph. Compare that short, easy post that would actually address the relevant issues to the long comment filled with irrelevancies and straw men.

My invitation to you to point out any part of the whole sorry mess that actually creates a logical link between the existence of evil, and the non-existence of god, still stands.

No, I’m still waiting for you to address an actual Argument from Evil — not simplifications you make up for the sake of having an easier time of constructing straw man rebuttals — and explain exactly which inferences fail to connection logically.

October 2, 2008 at 6:20 pm
(44) Luo Ge says:

“If children already believed in a god, they wouldn’t be asking that question.”

The fact that they fram the question that way suggests that they expect there to be some kind of “god”, but they want to know who it is.

“Certainly, no one claimed otherwise.”

Except, perhap;s, those who find convenient excuses for putting up their own point of view to become the default view, instead of allowing there to be a neutral ground with no default.

“And it wasn’t relevant to the above post.”

Pay attention. You state that the default is “no belief”. Then you adopt without a murmer the suggestion that we don’t need a god because there is a mechanistic explanation for everything. Or did you in fact have some ather explanation? Or is there no “everything” after all? Which is it to be? Do you also have “no belief” in a purely mechanistic universe? Do you have any belief at all? What alternatives do you have to the idea of god, that do not require any kind of belief? I will be fascinated to hear them.

You have repeatedly asked me to point to arguments in the “argument from evil” that seem to me to fail. I chose a few to point to holes in, but appareaantly do not like the ones I chose.

Oh dear, how inconvenient. I seem to have been arguing with the Monty Python Atheist.

“Sorry! No! Wrong argument! Try again!”

Well, to avoid my having to make some more blind guesses about which arguments you would like me to pull apart, only for you to say again, “sorry, not those arguments, guess again,” how about you choose some for once. Now that would make a change, wouldn’t it. Having to produce an actual argument yourself (even if it is only quoted from a well established body of argument, which shouldn’t really be so difficult – just go to thebody of argument and select your favourite argument, copy it, and paste it into this page, or, if you prefer, simply create a link to it – although the number of times you have so far refused to do it seems to suggest that you might have a problem with it. I would have thought it should be easiser for you – after all this topic is your baby, apparently a primary activity for you, while for me it is just a temporary interruption from my ordinary full-time life. So I suspect you may have more time for this than I do.

October 2, 2008 at 7:44 pm
(45) Austin Cline says:

The fact that they fram the question that way suggests that they expect there to be some kind of “god”, but they want to know who it is.

Only if you assume, in advance and without warrant, that “god” and “creator” have to be identical. They are in some traditions but not in others.

those who find convenient excuses for putting up their own point of view to become the default view, instead of allowing there to be a neutral ground with no default.

Atheism is the absence of belief in gods, not a “point of view.”

Pay attention.

I am paying attention — to the topic of the post your commenting on.

I will be fascinated to hear them.

I’m sure you would be fascinated with taking things even further off topic.

You have repeatedly asked me to point to arguments in the “argument from evil” that seem to me to fail. I chose a few to point to holes in, but appareaantly do not like the ones I chose.

I have no interest in holes you pick in straw men you create, no.

Well, to avoid my having to make some more blind guesses about which arguments you would like me to pull apart…

You have to “guess” that others wouldn’t be interested in a straw man of your own creation? Curious. Anyway, there are plenty of sources where the Argument from Evil is discussed. I’m sure that one of them would be worthwhile.

Unless, of course, you have no idea what those sources are because you aren’t familiar with the argument outside of your own straw men.

October 2, 2008 at 9:10 pm
(46) Luo Ge says:

I am still waiting for anything resembling an actual target to focus on. But you can take your time. I have to go away for a few days now, and will not be anywhere near the internet.

You put up the question, “Does the Existence of Evil Disprove God?” A reference or two to an actual argument that is relevant to your question would not go amiss.

October 2, 2008 at 9:53 pm
(47) Austin Cline says:

I am still waiting for anything resembling an actual target to focus on.

If you are familiar with the argument, you don’t need anyone to spoon-feed one to you. Insisting that others look like they have more time than you — as if your time is more important than theirs — does nothing to help.

A reference or two to an actual argument that is relevant to your question would not go amiss.

Perhaps you missed where I said that the post was written in the expectation that readers would be familiar with the argument in question. In fact, everyone else does seem to have been — everyone except you.

October 3, 2008 at 7:53 pm
(48) JT says:

If you think about it opposite forces are abundent in nature.

Are they, or do we just categorize them that way?

Good question. We understand the world around us through the categorizeation of it. Perhaps an electron is something else, but as we understand it, it is in opposition to the proton as is the positron in opposition to the electron.

It would stand to reason that a god would have an opposite of its own.

Why? How do you reason from categorize of natural phenomena to gods?

Granted that gods are considered to be beyond human reasoning, but under the idea that one’s creation would reflect some aspect of its creator would this constant presence of opposing forces not be one indication? Why would random chance create such an ordered universe? I reason that gods have what we define as evil tendencies, or what have you, and these opposing forces are just an example.

October 3, 2008 at 7:59 pm
(49) John Hanks says:

If you believe in an all virtuous and all powerful sky god, evil can be quite a problem. If God comes internally from a part of the brain and it serves as a sort of help mate, the problem disappears. Human evil comes from sociopaths exploiting human weakness and the
God within counters this. Natural evil comes from nature and it is entirely different.

October 3, 2008 at 10:52 pm
(50) Mriana says:

Listen to Bishop Schori and you will see the philosophy of many Episcopalians- Love is God/God is love. So even in that respect, God is good.

Yet this god allows so much evil to exist.

So, such an argument doesn’t hold up with many Christians, including Humanistic Christians like Spong and Culpitt.

I think that it’s by ignoring or denying its implications. Evil exists. If their god exists, it must either allow this evil, deliberately cause this evil, or is impotent in the face of that evil.

I think either you (or I) misunderstand or you haven’t read anything by them, not sure which, for even Cupitt admits love is a human emotion. I’m not saying I understand them either, but I’m trying to look at it from their POVs, which is non-realism, the best I can as I attempt to play “devil’s advocate”, albeit poorly.

Of course evil (or rather deviant and anti-social human behaviour) exists and even Spong would lay that on the human too, just as he would the emotion of love. Spong readily admits he does not believe in a Santa Claus deity in the sky. Thing is, I don’t entirely comprehend his concept of a deity either, but he calls it “the Ground of All Being”, which, in his opinion, is a non-theistic belief. I have often questioned that, but what we are talking about is throwing humanistic views into religion, which I fail to explain it well because humanism is based on reason and compassion without a belief in the supernatural. He calls the idea of a god a human concept, yet he turns around and says in the foreward of Anthony Freeman’s book, “I experience this God, I do not explain this God”, whatever that means. I struggle with throwing a deity into humanism or even calling human emotions and actions “god”. He has even called the stories in the Bible myths, which got him a lot of flack. lol (Oh I shouldn’t laugh, for there were some death threats in there too- by Xians. :( )

Anthony Freeman who wrote God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism does much the same, which confuses Evangelicals to no end. They see these men as saying we are God, which Evangelicals, at least the ones I know, insist is not Xian. We are talking what appears to be two very different theologies. One is the idea that god is a human concept and the Evangelical one denies this idea in favour of some sky god.

Freeman states (p. 64) “there is no supernatural world of real beings which either parallels or interacts with this world”. “Religious language is a human attempt to make sense of the human predicament.” Page 45 he states there is no afterlife. He has many humanistic thoughts, yet he throws in a god concept. BTW, he was excommunicated from the Anglican Church for saying there is no god.

Of course, if you understand non-realism and/or Freeman’s view, which is humanistic in nature, any better (I book marked this page since your last e-newsletter), I would be more than glad to read an explanation, for it appears they realize they are not actually talking about a real deity, but human attributes. How can one deny the existance of God, an afterlife, a literal crucifixion, etc (all part of Xian theology) and admit the stories are myths, and still call themselves Xian? By creating a new deity out of human emotions, the Ground of All Being, and alike? I don’t know, but who am I, a person who doesn’t believe in the god of religion (any religion) or a historical Jesus, to judge? They are right about one thing- the idea of a God is a human concept, just as the idea of an afterlife is. (I’m falling out of “devil’s advocate” mode, but I was never good with that anyway.) Somehow, what I read on your page concerning Xian humanism (humanistic Christianity) didn’t seem to quite fit or maybe it did and I can’t grasp throwing a deity into humanism.

See, for my Evangelical relatives, Satan is evil and God is good. All that is good is of God and all that is evil is of the devil. There goes the argument of evil negating God right out the window.

Except that evil and the devil only exist so long as God allows it. Ergo, God is ultimately responsible for the evil.

Now this is where I lose “devil’s advocate” completely and say I agree without a doubt because in the story of Job God gave Satan ‘permission’ to do all those things to Job. In effect, God did it or was at least an accessory to it.

October 3, 2008 at 11:47 pm
(51) Austin Cline says:

Granted that gods are considered to be beyond human reasoning,

Already you are assuming a lot in that statement. If there are gods, there is no reason to assume that they are beyond human understanding. That’s more of an excuse made by believers for why they can’t explain what they are talking about.

but under the idea that one’s creation would reflect some aspect of its creator

Why assume that is the case? If your first premise above is true, why suddenly assume that gods work like humans now? And, even if this premise is true, why assume that this aspect would be reflected?

Why would random chance create such an ordered universe?

The only people who think that “random chance” is the only alternative to gods are theists who are either ignorant of science or who just aren’t telling the truth.

If you drop a ball, it’s not the case that the only two possible causes for it falling are “god willed it” and “random chance.”

October 4, 2008 at 7:32 am
(52) Zack says:

Except that the phenomenon of young children asking “Who made the world?” does suggest that the actual starting point may be that there is an original intelligence. — Luo Ge on October 2, 2008 at 7:06 am

I don’t see why this should be so, if by “original intelligence” you just mean a god.

For one thing, when a little kid asks, “Who made the world?” he or she is more than a little likely to suspect that the answer is, “Mom and Dad.” We would not draw any weighty conclusions from this.

For another thing, your example is not the only way that kids frame this question. They are just as likely to say, “Where did the world come from?” We do not seize upon this as evidence that small children intuit alternative dimensions.

And for yet another thing, plenty of little kids never do ask “Where did the world come from?” They simply accept the existence of the world and never feel impelled to speculate about its origins. What does this sort of kid say about the existence of an “orginal intelligence”?

Certainly, their starting point is not sophistic philosophic niceties. — Luo Ge on October 2, 2008 at 7:06 am

Maybe not on trivial matters such as the origin of the world, but they can certainly be little lawyers at bedtime.

November 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm
(53) Oiced Mocam says:

Please,

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. HarperCollins, USA. 2008

November 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm
(54) Marvin says:

(46) Over four years ago Luo Ge said:
“I am still waiting for anything resembling an actual target to focus on.”

He or she appears to have forgotten all about it after the trip, but a number of people provided the requested “reference or two to an actual argument” long before his/her last post. I wonder whether he or she will notice that the topic has been revived.

Speaking as a recovering fundamentalist Christian, though, it isn’t easy for a person to allow himself to even consider what he has been taught is unthinkable. I’d be very interested in what has become of Luo Ge since 2008. It’s possible that a seed was sown.

November 10, 2012 at 5:04 am
(55) Oiced Mocam says:

It looks as if Ehrman is poised to repeat the success of Misquoting Jesus, his previous bestselling book, with his most recent title,

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question— BART D. ERHMAN

Why We Suffer. It is a book that adopts an intimate, personal tone and one that is very nearly autobiographical. As an agnostic rather than an atheist Ehrman comes across as more human and more vulnerable than many of today’s popular atheist authors. Ehrman insists he does not hope to persuade people to de-convert from Christianity. Rather, he simply wants to show how the Bible cannot address the issue of suffering—the very issue that convinced him to abandon his Christian beliefs. He does not display the bravado we’ve become accustomed to from those who seek to lead people away from Christianity. He states, for example, that even many years after leaving the faith, the possibility of hell continues to trouble him and that there are still nights where he wakes up in a cold sweat. He writes as well of how much he misses being able to offer thanks for all the good things in his life. As an agnostic he has no one to whom he can offer thanks and this is clearly a sad void in his life. There is something almost tragic in reading about his life after God.

Título do livro best seller no Brasil:
O problema com Deus: As respostas que a Bíblia não dá ao sofrimento.

Oiced Mocam

November 10, 2012 at 11:55 am
(56) TSAHPINA says:

i am not so good in english and even if i were i would not be so good at proving my stands right.
and my stand on this question is among the other 21 percent,that is that the existence of evil in humanity absolutely proves there is no any kind of good. i and austin are right. full stop. lol

November 13, 2012 at 6:02 am
(57) Rubens Mathias says:

Any racional attempt is absurd and contradictory. Using philosophy for that would be a solipsism so fanatic as a religious fundamentalist. There’s no empirirical evidence and any kind of logic to anythin supernatural, period.

November 18, 2012 at 9:15 am
(58) Borsia says:

One problem against the argument that evil proves the non-existence of a god, at least as it is being discussed so far here, it that is focuses solely on human evil or evil towards man.
But rather than looking at the evil of man we need to look at the evil toward all creatures.
Theist claim there is a god, supposedly, a compassionate and loving god who loves his creations.
But if this god created all life on earth perhaps someone can explain parasites?
What exactly is the loving side of heart worms, brain worms, elephantitis, and thousands of others that inflict pain and death on virtually every type of creature great and small?
How is it in some plan of some god to infest an innocent child or some other creature with parasites that will cause it a slow and excruciating end to a short life, or perhaps worse a prolonged life crippled in constant pain?
Then there are, of course, diseases, viruses, the list goes on and on against such a god, but nothing for.
One can make an argument about the free will of man and his evil deeds or the evil deeds of governments or religions towards others. But no such arguments hold water when other creatures are involved.
Therefore an all loving and compassionate god is an impossibility.

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