Saturday, January 05, 2008

Atheism for dummies

It’s hard to know how to put a charitable spin on John Loftus’ latest post.

Is he dense, dissembling, or forgetful to the point of senile dementia?

“This argument is touted recently by the Maverick Philosopher which Vic Reppert links to, who merely asks the question of whether or not he's correct. It's used by C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Paul Copan, and others like Steve Hays and David Wood. It concerns the problem of evil and whether or not the atheist can make that argument without an objective standard to know evil. Now I don't usually call Christian arguments asinine, so hear me out...”

Of course, I never said that an amoral atheist cannot mount an argument from evil.

“The fact that there is suffering is undeniable.”

Tell that to Paul and Patricia Churchland.

“I'm talking about pain...the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? I’m arguing that the amount of intense suffering in this world makes the belief in a good God improbable from a theistic perspective, and I may be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still ask about the internal consistency of what a theist believes.”

How does that contradict anything I’ve written on the subject?

“The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with his own beliefs (not mine) that all suffering is for a greater good. It’s an internal problem for the theist and the skeptic is merely using the logical tool for assessing arguments called the reductio ad absurdum, which attempts to reduce to absurdity the claims of a person. The technique is to force a claimant to choose between accepting the consequences of what he believes, no matter how absurd it seems, or to reject one or more premises in his argument. The person making this argument does not believe the claimant and is trying to show why her beliefs are misguided and false to some degree, depending on the force of his counter-argument. It’s that simple.”

I myself have repeatedly drawn the distinction between internal and external versions of the argument from evil.

However, to make good on the internal version, Loftus needs to identify instances of suffering which, say, Bible writers would regard as instances of gratuitous suffering. Where has he ever done that?

“What counts as evil in my atheist worldview is a separate problem from the Christian problem of evil. They are distinctly separate issues. Christians cannot seek to answer their internal problem by claiming atheists also have a problem with evil. Yet, that’s exactly what they do here, which is an informal fallacy known as a red herring, or skirting the issue. Christians must deal with their internal problem.”

I’ve repeatedly addressed the internal as well as external versions of the argument from evil.

“That this is a theistic problem can be settled once and for all by merely reminding the Christian that she would still have to deal with this problem even if I never raised it at all. That is, even if I did not argue that the existence of evil presents a serious problem for the Christian view of God, the Christian would still have to satisfactorily answer the problem for herself. So to turn around and argue that as an atheist I need to have an objective moral standard to make this argument is nonsense. It’s an internal problem that would still demand an answer if no atheist ever argued for it.”

True, but unconvincing. Loftus wouldn’t get this worked up over the issue if he were an amoral atheist.

“The problem speaks for itself.”

A philosophically contemptible assertion.

“There is nothing wrong with a Christian who wishes to evaluate the internal consistency of her own belief system. To say otherwise is to affirm pure fideism.”

Why would an amoral atheist even care about Christian fideism? Why would an amoral atheist even care about the problem of evil?

The only reason to care if Christians are intellectually consistent is if you think that it’s wrong to believe falsehoods. But an amoral atheist doesn’t think it’s wrong to believe falsehoods. So Loftus’ body language betrays his rhetoric. The guy would make a lousy poker player. He perspires too much.

Steven Carr said...

“When faced with a knock-down argument like why their alleged god passes by on the other side when a screaming child is burned to death in a Kenyan church, what can you expect theists to do other than try to evade answering the question? They are as heartless as their alleged god, and the deaths of children being burned alive, don't trouble their beliefs in the slighest. 'That child died for a greater good', they will say.”

Commenting on anything Steve Carr has to say always feels a bit like taunting a boy in a wheelchair. It doesn’t seem quite fair. But at the risk of overtaxing his atrophied capacity for rational analysis, I’ll make a few brief observations:

i) How is the existence of “heartless” Christians relevant to the internal argument from evil? Isn’t that supposed to be an attack on the coherence of the Christian belief-system?

ii) If the critic who is mounting this argument is an amoral atheist, why would he cast the issue in such emotive and moralistic terms?

iii) Assuming that Christianity is heartless, how is the Christian worldview any less heartless than the secular worldview? What is the moral significance of a screaming biochemical machine? How is burning a biochemical machine to death any worse than roasting marshmallows over a campfire?


  1. Steve said:
    It’s hard to know how to put a charitable spin on John Loftus’ latest post.

    Given our political culture, I believe the spin starts with: "After the allegations broke, Loftus responded: 'I have an unusually wide stance that may have been misinterpreted.'"

    It will then progress through: "Many of you may have misheard what I said, and I apologize that you misunderstood."

    And it will conclude with: "I did not have sexual relations with that term, asinine. Everyone knows what I said was adenine, which is an amino acid."

    At which point, Bush will ask the A.G. to investigate the allegations which the Democrats will vocally decry while voting to fund it. Senator Byrd (D-KKK) will argue that the bill is necesary for the state of West Virginia so that West Virginia can get The Robert C. Byrd Colonoscopy Center for Newborns, Newly Weds, and Newt Gingrich.

    At this point, The Free Republic will post an essay proving that Loftus's arguments were obvious forgeries, and Dan Blather will reappear to affirm that they are truthful hoaxes while Dennis Kucinich will claim to have seen one personally. Hannity and Colmes will address the topic between features on how Hillary and Britney could help solidify each other's crackpot base by switching the vowels in their names to "Hillery and Britnay". This would be discussed to some length on TMZ before being released on YouTube as the audio soundtrack to Anime videos that only four people have ever seen before.

    This process will take roughly six weeks, after which John Loftus will press the "repeat" button and repost his claims.

  2. Unfortunately for John, I remember almost everything he has said. Catalogued his lame claims to use against him in the future.

    So, now he claims he's not giving an external critique, but an internal one. But, a few months ago he claimed that internal critiques were pointless and almost impossible. The only *real* critique was an *external* one. Thus the Lofty one:


    "Paul, let's say I critique your view with something that is obvious to everyone, and you still disagree. Then what? Let's say you are a Idealist disciple of George Berkeley and you don't believe there is a material universe. Kicking a rock and claiming to refute you won't work, will it?

    Did you know that Berkeley probably cannot be refuted any other way? In fact, a professor friend of mine claims that Berekeley [sic] cannot be refuted. Why? because he argued for a consistent and coherent system of beliefs.

    Did you know that Pantheism cannot be refuted?

    Did you know relativism cannot be refuted?

    And if we grant you presuppositionalism then Calvinistic Christianity cannot be refuted.

    And there are others. Barthianism probably cannot be refuted too.

    But, they cannot all be right. So even though these beliefs probably cannot be refuted, they cannot all be true. They may all be false.

    Unless a claim is made that can ground a belief outside the system such a view has insulated itself from any all any critiques from the outside.

    And herein lies the rub. Knowing that such internally irrefutable positions cannot all be correct, then thos [sic] inside one of these systems of belief must consider the obvious, like kicking the stone, and like the presence of intense evil, as Ellis explains.

    An internally consistent viewpoint that cannot be critiqued externally is a sure sign that the one inside this system of belief should consider these external "obvious" arguments. While internal consistency is definitely a test for truth, if it does not "touch ground" somewhere it may be a castle built in the sky in a delusional world. The only way to evaluate such a delusion is to consider an external critique, and it takes a healthy measure of skepticism, which is a virtue in every other investigative endeavor, to do so."


    John has been all over the map during his short stint as a "debunker." He says whatever gets him the most points at the time. When he can't give an internal critique, he says that doesn't matter because the only real critiques are external ones. When he can't provide an external standard, he says his critique is an internal one. Loftus is unstable. His thinking is like that of the man in James who looks at his reflection and then as soon as he leaves he forgets what he looks like. John's debate secret is become like jell-o. Ever tried nailing that substance to the wall? It's just an undefined blob of mushy substance that changes form as it slides down the wall, allowing it to traverse any terrain.

  3. steven carr said...

    “I see Steve Hays at Triablogue is already repeating the slander I said that Christians repeat - that atheists believe that children and marshmallows are fundamentally the same thing , and so burning one is the same as burning the other.”

    As predicted, Carr continues to prove his incapacity for rational thought. Let’s walk him through the issue one more time.

    I am answering Loftus on his own grounds. Loftus says that an amoral atheist can mount an internal argument from evil. So his contention is predicated on an atheist who does not believe in right or wrong, good or evil, but is adopting that distinction for the sake of argument in order to expose the incoherence of Christian theology.

    Carr’s objections are irrelevant to the point that Loftus is trying to make. Indeed, his objections are at odds with the point that Loftus is trying to make. Loftus is the one who is posting an amoral atheist, not me.

    Mind you, even if I were not answering Loftus on his own grounds, the specter of the amoral atheist is not a bare hypothetical. They really exist. There are admitted amoral atheists.

    Likewise, there are atheists who regard suffering as an illusion. A relic of folk psychology.

    And if you subscribe to Dawkins’ “scientific” definition of a human being as a bacterial colony or blind replicator-cum-survival machine, then why wouldn’t you believe that a child and a marshmallow are morally equivalent?

    But Carr is a bundle of quivering emotions, so he’s beyond the reach of reason, even when a Christian is simply building on premises supplied by the unbeliever.

    “One problem with the problem of evil is that many Christians are so evil themselves that they cannot recognise evil when they see it. If their god allows a child to burn to death in a Kenyan church while screaming for help, they think their god is righteous for allowing that to happen.”

    Yet another clueless statement on his part. A Christian theodicy does not in any way imply an inability to recognize *evil*. What it denies is the existence of *gratuitous* evil.

    But, of course, Carr is too hysterical to accurately represent the opposing viewpoint. Carr keeps reminding us that you have to commit intellectual suicide to be an atheist.

  4. I notice that in response to Steve Carr, Steve Hays simply asks a bunch of questions. Any arguments from this camp?

  5. "Gekulekanai said...

    I notice that in response to Steve Carr, Steve Hays simply asks a bunch of questions. Any arguments from this camp?"

    We've been over the problem of evil many, many times on this blog. Look in the archives. The atheists over there keep repeating themselves.

    In short, Loftus' argument from evil is over *gratuitous* evil.

    However, in Calvinistic theology, the Eternal Decree and Providence of God would eliminate any idea of gratuitous evil since all things happen for a purpose.

    Ergo, there is no problem of evil.

  6. Hmm

    I find this issue to be easier to discuss when you do it with someone who tries to find inconsistencies within th christian worldview.

    But it gets somewhat trickier when the question is (or seems to be anyway) more sincere.

    For example, i have a relative who has gotten a rare illness and another relative asked me about how i look at this from my worldview. They aren't christians BTW.

    The questions was thus: "If God is sovereign, then what is the purpose of this, or how can there be any purpose at all"?

    Now, of course, one does not have to know everything to know something. But still, i find situations like this more difficult as a calvinist.

    As an arminian one could just use the standard phrase about free will ans so on.

  7. Goosehenry said:
    The questions was thus: "If God is sovereign, then what is the purpose of this, or how can there be any purpose at all"?

    The question is itself flawed. In point of fact, the only way that suffering can have any purpose is if God is sovereign in the first place.

    BTW, 1 Peter addresses the issue of suffering explicitly, stating that Christians are called to suffer at times. Thus, when you suffer, you know that God has called you to it; therefore, there is a reason for it and it's not just happenstance.

    This cannot be true in an atheistic worldview, nor even in an Arminian worldview.

    You said:
    Now, of course, one does not have to know everything to know something. But still, i find situations like this more difficult as a calvinist.

    As an arminian one could just use the standard phrase about free will ans so on.

    While it has been more emotionally difficult for some under Calvinism, I think the logic is fairly clear. But since humans are not Spock, it is not surprising that sometimes emotional responses can overwhelm logical responses. This is what happens with the "free will" defense, which is simply an emotional appeal to try to defuse the issue but which logically resolves nothing.

    In the end, the reason the Calvinist position stands against the atheist's onslaught is because it is logically sound. While it may not offer the front-loaded "comfort" of an Arminian response, when you examine the logical ramifications the Arminian position is downright terrifing (something happens that God cannot do anything about; God respects your autonomy more than anything else--imagine trying that with a child ("Don't play in the street, Johnny. No, I really really mean it. You could get hurt. If only I could just grab you and pull you from the street, you'd be safe...but who am I to violate your free will? Oh, poor Johnny is now a grease spot. But at least he died with free will."), etc.).

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