Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Carrier fumbles the argument from evil

David Marshall recently debated Richard Carrier. Among other things, Carrier deployed his own version of the argument from evil, which Marshall has posted:

i) A basic problem with Carrier’s argument is that he fails to distinguish between the internal argument from evil and the external argument from evil.

The existence of infant mortality isn’t even prima facie inconsistent with the existence of the Biblical God. It’s not as if the Bible depicts a world in which no child ever dies of illness, in glaring contrast to the real world where children die every day.

Death is a fixture of Bible history. In Scripture, everyone dies–sooner or later. Likewise, the Bible acknowledges the existence of disease. Indeed, Carrier appeals to the healings of Jesus to document that fact.

The Bible doesn’t depict a disease-free world. The Bible doesn’t depict a world in which everyone is immortal.

Therefore, there is no prima facie discrepancy between Biblical theism and human mortality. So why does Carrier think human mortality is an undercutter or defeater for Biblical theism? From a Biblical perspective, the coexistence of the Biblical God with human mortality is clearly compatible, for the obvious reason that Scripture acknowledges both.

It’s as if Carrier deployed the argument from water to disprove Biblical theism. Carrier cited statistics regarding the volume of freshwater in lakes, rivers, glaciers, icecaps, and aquifers. He cited statistics about snowfall and rainfall. He cited statistics about the volume of saltwater in the oceans.

He then triumphantly explained how the existence of water disproved the existence of Yahweh! But since the Bible doesn’t deny the existence of water, how would the existence of water be inconsistent with the existence of Yahweh?

ii) The Bible has a theology of death. There is a theological rationale for death. Carrier doesn’t even engage that argument.

Human mortality a divine curse. We live in a fallen world. Exposure to natural evils like disease and death are hallmarks of our fallen condition.

iii) Although death is a curse, death has fringe benefits. Many of us exist because others have died. Take replacement children. Or widows and widowers who remarry. Take war, which results in dislocation. That, in turn, results in men and women mating with different men and women than if they hadn’t migrated from the war zone. Same thing with famine. A fallen world has compensatory goods.

iv) Although death is a curse, immortality in a fallen world would be a curse. To live in sin century after century, millennium after millennium, to be trapped in a fallen world, to be unable to die, is no less punitive than death. Indeed, that’s what the Bible means by everlasting punishment.

Many unbelievers begin killing themselves long before their natural lifespan has run its course. Many unbelievers begin killing themselves in their prime. They drink themselves to death. Or escape into recreational drugs. Or commit suicide.

They can’t stand to be sober. They hate getting up in the morning. They dread the prospect of getting through another day. They are miserable, depressed. The emptiness of their godless existence is unendurable.

v) Death is the great reminder of how life without God robs us of everything we hold dear. In a fallen world, time is often our worst enemy. The thief of time. The passage of time devours our past. Steadily consumes everything that makes life worthwhile.

Coming face to face with the death of friends and relatives forces us to confront our desperate need for divine healing. Physical healing. Spiritual healing. Emotional healing.

vi) The Bible has a doctrine of immortality. That’s an eschatological promise. Although death is the Last Enemy, death won’t have the last word.

Having to wait for something makes it more precious than instant gratification. Dying makes eternal life more precious. Frequently we don’t know how good we had it until we lose it.

As an internal argument from evil, Carrier’s argument fails–badly.

vii) What about an external argument from evil? But from that perspective, why is infant mortality evil?

To begin with, Carrier supports abortion. So he’s shedding crocodile tears when he feigns indignation over the death of babies.

viii) In addition, from his Darwinian perspective, high rates of mortality for young offspring figure in the balance of nature. That’s a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Out of large litters, only a few survive to adulthood. Most offspring die to feed predators, scavengers, and detritivores. Carrier complains about germs and parasites, but that’s an integral part of the ecosystem. Has Carrier bothered to consider what would happen to life on earth if we eradicated all germs and parasites? Has it occurred to him that that would be detrimental to life on earth?

From a Darwinian perspective, the death of simian primate offspring is no different than the death of prosimian primate offspring (e.g. gibbons, lemurs, orangutan, marmosets). Of course, because it’s our own species, natural selection has programmed our brain to form emotional attachments for certain members of our own species, like offspring. But that has no objective significance.

ix) Carrier makes hay about Christ’s opposition to ceremonial handwashing. Is Carrier really that illiterate, or is he just playing to the galleries?

In context, this has reference to ritual cleansing, not hygienic cleansing. Ritual ablutions don’t use antiseptic soap and water. There’s nothing inherently sanitary about ritual ablutions.

x) Carrier said:

No. Jesus argued that we don't have to wash our hands before we eat, that washing is a human tradition, with no endorsement from God. And that nothing we put into us can harm us. And as he is claimed to have said in the Gospel of Mark, not even poison. Clearly, Jesus knew nothing about germs. Nor did he know that faith doesn't make you immune to poison, either.

a) Carrier is partly alluding to the Long Ending of Mark. But that’s probably a scribal interpolation.

b) In addition, Carrier is alluding to Mk 7:14-23 (par. Mt 15:10-20). Once again, is Carrier really that illiterate, or is he just playing to the galleries?

Jesus is discussing “defilement,” not hygiene. “Defilement” is a cultic category. It refers to ritual impurity, not unsanitary conditions.

Moreover, Jesus is contrasting manmade purity codes (concocted by the Pharisees) with actual sin. Moral evil. Moral pollution, not physical pollution. 

xi) Carrier makes tendentious claims about the healing miracles of Jesus, as well as post-biblical healing miracles. He says it’s all psychosomatic.

Really? Raising Lazarus from the dead after three days in hot tomb is psychosomatic? Why doesn’t Carrier visit the county morgue and test his theory on the cadavers.

Of course, Carrier would deny the historicity of that event, but that’s different than classifying it as “psychosomatic.”

He also disregards evidence to the contrary. For instance:

R. Gardner, Healing Miracles (DLT 1987)

C. Keener, Miracles (Baker 2011)

B. Palmer, ed. Medicine and the Bible (Paternoster 1986)

M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil (Simon & Schuster 2005)

G. Twelftree, Jesus The Miracle Worker (IVP 1999)

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