Friday, January 26, 2007

The internal argument from evil

To set the stage, I had presented the following, bare-bones presentation of the argument from evil:

1.God is omnipotent
2.God is benevolent (or omnibenevolent)
3.There is evil
4.Given (3), either God is able to prevent evil, but unwilling (pace #2), or else he is willing to prevent evil, but unable (pace #1), in which case there is no God.

Now for Loftus:


“Let's just look at what God can do with water. Can God turn water into wine?”

Which nicely misses the point. By turning water into wine, the water ceases to be wine. The medium of wine is not interchangeable with the medium of water. It is not physically possible for these two substances to share all the same properties in common.

So all Loftus has done is to prove my point rather than disprove it. A finite medium isn’t infinitely elastic.

Thanks, John. You always prove my point by missing my point. Keep up the good work.

“But do you deny that the greater power someone has then the more moral responsibility such a person has? If I had no means to stop a pair of thugs from beating someone to death, then I do not have the same moral guilt that a superman would have for not doing anything about it.”

i) Well, for one thing, it rather depends on who they’re assaulting. If they beat Bin Laden to death, why should I wish to intervene?

Indeed, for me to intervene and save the life of a mass murderer would be immoral.

ii) You see, there’s an equivocal quality these examples. On the one hand, they appeal to our human instincts. Our natural empathy. But that is also an appeal to our human ignorance.

On the other hand, they put us in the place of God. What would we do if we had godlike powers?

Well, if I had godlike powers, I would know the consequences of saving any particular individual from death or injury.

iii) Apropos (ii), there is also the tacit assumption, in all his examples, that these evils are befalling the innocent.

a) Now, human beings can be innocent in relation to one another. I may not have done anything to you to justify what you do to me.

But I’m not innocent in relation to God.

b) I’d add that, left to my own devices, apart from common grace, I would be quite prepared to wrong you if I had the opportunity and it served my self-interest.

c) Likewise, a particular evil may not correspond to a particular sin. But the fact that I’m a sinner leaves me justly liable to harm, even if the harm I suffer is not a targeted judgment.

“Is there something that is impossible for God to do in our world? What would that be, according to you? Just curious. I'd like to know. Specify, specify, specify. What exactly are you talking about here?”

I’ve answered that question in great detail in the past when you came up with your silly birdman “improvement.”

Why would I waste time repeating myself here and now when you ignored my arguments then and there?

“Really? Then this is only because the believer has not spelled out what she believes about God's goodness. I'm listening.”

Loftus is listening with earplugs. I’ve discussed this all before.

The goodness of God includes the justice of God.

Because the goodness of God is the summum bonum, knowing the goodness of God is also the summum bonum.

This includes an existential knowledge of his justice and mercy. Hence, the fall, followed by redemption. Election and reprobation. Heaven and hell.

Ask me something I haven’t told you before, John.

“Now let's say you believe it's good for God to send people to hell, and that it's good for God to do nothing about the many tragedies that happen on a daily basis, as well as the historic ones, like Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, or the 9/11 attack. That's what you believe, correct?”

No, it’s half-truth. I believe it’s good for God to send people to hell.

I don’t believe that God does “nothing” about many tragedies. Everything happens according to plan, right on schedule. Providence never misses a beat.

“Then I have all I need to mount my internal critique. I will press you on why you believe these things are good, especially when an omnipotent God could easily have averted them all.”

Here is where, once again, Loftus cannot grasp the nature of an internal critique.

I don’t have to prove that these things are good. The nature of the internal argument from evil is not to show that any particular premise is *false*, but to show that the set of premises are mutually *inconsistent*.

If successful, a side-effect would be to falsify at least one premise. But it doesn’t single out any one of the premises. It doesn’t falsify one premise over another.

And that’s assuming the exercise is successful.

As far as my own burden of proof is concerned, all I have to show is that the evils he cites are not incompatible with the character or purpose of God in Scripture.

Once again, this is not a question of veracity, but consistency. I don’t have to show that any or all of the premises are true, only consistent.

Remember, the internal argument from evil attempts to pose a logical *dilemma* for the believer.

So the question at issue is not whether the syllogism is true or false, but merely valid or invalid. Not false, but fallacious.

“Why didn't he do anything, I'll ask? You will try to offer reasons why he didn't. I will question these offered reasons and ask you to clarify and explain them.”

Well, that would be a first. You might begin with my reply to Jim Lazarus.

“Now, if in the end you choose to believe in your God in spite of the glaring problems you have in explaining the presence of intense suffering, then you've left the discussion and punted to faith.”

i) There are no glaring problems to explain.

I may be moved by evil, but I’m unmoved by the *problem* of evil. Why? No God, no evil.

Take God out of the equation and you *solve* the problem of evil by committing moral suicide.

ii) Always keep your eye on Loftus’ bait-and-switch tactic. The problem of evil is not about just any kind of evil, but *gratuitous* evil.

Loftus likes to make things easy on himself by dropping that key modifier.

“Since if we're talking about suffering we need instances of it to know exactly what we're talking about.”

True, except that he’s picking out instances of what *he* deems to be evil, according to his own value-system and/or instinctual reaction.

At that point, the internal argument collapses into an external argument.


  1. At this point all I can say is that if you think the things I mention here are all good by definition because you believe your God exists and he does what is good, then I can't say anymore. An internal critique of your faith fails because you refuse to actually reconcile the existence of a good God with the presence of obvious cases of evil he could have easily averted.

    All I can do is to hum a few bars in Braille.

  2. I love how Loftus cops out. Don't worry, next month he'll be back pretending the previous exchange never happened! (That's about the only thing Loftus is consistent in...)

  3. John W. Loftus said:

    "An internal critique of your faith fails because you refuse to actually reconcile the existence of a good God with the presence of obvious cases of evil he could have easily averted."

    1. Another straw man argument. I don't deny that God could have averted various evils. That's a non-issue for me. The real question at issue is not whether this or that evil was preventable, but whether this or that evil is gratuitous.

    Does it contribute to a greater good? That's the issue?

    2. Oh, and when you talk about "obvious" cases of evil, are these obvious on your grounds or mine? This goes back to the question of an *internal* critique.

  4. "1.God is omnipotent
    2.God is benevolent (or omnibenevolent)
    3.There is evil
    4.Given (3), either God is able to prevent evil, but unwilling (pace #2), or else he is willing to prevent evil, but unable (pace #1), in which case there is no God."

    I remember reading Bahnsen on this, and he added the following to the equation:

    5. God has a morally sufficient reason to allow suffering

    But it always seemed to me that this gives the opponent an opportunity to ask what this 'morally sufficient reason' is. To my recollection, Bahnsen didn't elaborate. What would be your response to such a charge?


  5. Mathetes said:

    "But it always seemed to me that this gives the opponent an opportunity to ask what this 'morally sufficient reason' is. To my recollection, Bahnsen didn't elaborate. What would be your response to such a charge?"

    My most recent answer is in the exchange I had with Jim Lazarus a while back.

  6. Mathetes,

    Steve elaborated, as he said, in his exchange with James Lazarus, so have I (my reply to James Lazarus), but Bahnsen's answer was like this (see below) to may of the requests that he provide the morally sufficient reason:

    "It turns out that the problem of evil is not a logical difficulty after all. If God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists, as the Bible teaches, then His goodness and power are not challenged by the reality of evil events and things in human experience. The only logical problem which arises in connection with discussions of evil is the unbeliever's philosophical inability to account for the objectivity of his moral judgments.

    The problem which men have with God when they come face to face with evil in the world is not a logical or philosophical one, but more a psychological one. We can find it emotionally very hard to have faith in God and trust His goodness and power when we are not given the reason why bad things happen to us and others. We instinctively think to ourselves, "why did such a terrible thing occur?" Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also. But God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). We might not be able to understand God's wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives.

    So then, the Bible calls upon us to trust that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which can be found in this world, but it does not tell us what that sufficient reason is. The believer often struggles with this situation, walking by faith rather than by sight. The unbeliever, however, finds the situation intolerable for his pride, feelings, or rationality. He refuses to trust God. He will not believe that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists, unless the unbeliever is given that reason for his own examination and assessment. To put it briefly, the unbeliever will not trust God unless God subordinates Himself to the intellectual authority and moral evaluation of the unbeliever -- unless God consents to trade places with the sinner.

    The problem of evil comes down to the question of whether a person should have faith in God and His word or rather place faith in his own human thinking and values. It finally becomes a question of ultimate authority within a person's life. And in that sense, the way in which unbelievers struggle with the problem of evil is but a continuing testimony to the way in which evil entered human history in the first place. The Bible indicates that sin and all of its accompanying miseries entered this world through the first transgression of Adam and Eve. And the question with which Adam and Eve were confronted way back then was precisely the question which unbelievers face today: should we have faith in God's word simply on His say-so, or should we evaluate God and His word on the basis of our own ultimate intellectual and moral authority?

    God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of a certain tree, testing them to see if they would attempt to define good and evil for themselves. Satan came along and challenged the goodness and truthfulness of God, suggesting He had base motives for keeping Adam and Eve from the delight of the tree. And at that point the whole course of human history depended upon whether Adam and Eve would trust and presuppose the goodness of God. Since they did not, the human race has been visited with torments too many and too painful to inventory. When unbelievers refuse to accept the goodness of God on the basis of His own self-revelation, they simply perpetuate the source of all of our human woes. Rather than solving the problem of evil, they are part of the problem.

    Therefore, it should not be thought that "the problem of evil" is anything like an intellectual basis for a lack of faith in God. It is rather simply the personal expression of such a lack of faith. What we find is that unbelievers who challenge the Christian faith end up reasoning in circles. Because they lack faith in God, they begin by arguing that evil is incompatible with the goodness and power of God. When they are presented with a logically adequate and Biblically supported solution to the problem of evil (viz., God has a morally sufficient but undisclosed reason for the evil that exists), they refuse to accept it, again because of their lack of faith in God. They would rather be left unable to give an account of any moral judgment whatsoever (about things being good or evil) than to submit to the ultimate and unchallengeable moral authority of God. That is too high a price to pay, both philosophically and personally."