Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dialogue #3 with an Atheist on the Problem of Evil (vs. John W. Loftus)

By Dave Armstrong (10-11-06)

This continues the discussion with John W. Loftus: atheist and former Christian pastor and apologist, from my previous installment (middle section); cross-posted in a thread at the Debunking Christianity blog. His words will be in blue. His older words will be in purple, and my past words in green.

* * * * *

I moved the discussion here in a related thread by you because the other is getting VERY long (esp. after my last one post there).

Hitler is either "allowed" by necessity of human free will or else we have no free will.

This is a false dichotomy.

Well, it is an argument from plausibility, based on the more involved logical background arguments of Alvin Plantinga.

Didn't God harden Pharoah's heart?

No. This is another instance (one of many I have documented) of atheists not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it. Shame on you, as a former pastor, with a multiple Masters degrees in theology, as this is a rather simple matter.

When the Bible says that God did this, it is in the particular sense of "God allowed the Pharaoh to become hardened of his own accord, then used it for His purposes, to free the Hebrew slaves." In other words, it is a typically vivid, pungent, dramatic Hebrew way of speech: "God did it [in the sense of it being ultimately used for His purposes, in His providence]."

Because it is pre-philosophical language, all that is bypassed and the writer just says "God hardened Pharaoh." But nevertheless, other passages give the true sense, so it can be better understood. Thus, the literature teaches by deduction what might be expressed in more logical-type language all in one sentence.

Accordingly, we have the Bible saying God hardened Pharaoh, many times (e.g., Ex. 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8 etc,), and even hardening the Egyptians (14:17), but it also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6).

Furthermore, it simply states the fact of hardening without saying who did it (Ex 7:14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35) and that one shouldn't harden one's own heart, as a generality (Deut 15:7; Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7).

The obvious, straightforward way to interpret all this data is as I have done. It is not contradictory: neither internally, nor with regard to the problem of evil. One understands this insofar as one also is familiar with the Hebrew oft-poetic, non-literal manner of speaking.

If you want to directly compare that world with human beings, and make us merely an evolutionary development of it (i.e., in a completely naturalistic sense; I am not condemning theistic evolution), then you have huge problems of your own, since how can you argue that cannibalism is more wrong for human beings than for animals (especially in a eat-anything-to-survive environment, such as the famous Donner party)? Atheists will play games and make out that people are qualitatively different, but this is nonsensical within your paradigm, which has man evolving directly from this same animal kingdom, wherein survival of the fittest is the natural order of things.

This is irrelevant to the theistic problem of evil. It's a red herring, for it sidetracks the problem of why God set up predation in the natural world.

I was simply responding to your statement: "In the natural world something must be killed so that some other carnivore can eat. This is the world your God set up." I didn't claim that it had anything directly to do with the problem of evil. It was, in effect, a footnote.

We could deal with this issue, if you want to do so sometime, but let's stick to the issue at hand.

Gladly. Like I said, I was simply responding to what you wrote. It didn't sidetrack me.

Why didn't God make us vegetarians? There are naturally existing vegetarian animals.

He did, originally (and some Christians adopt this view on Christian grounds, though it is tough, since Jesus ate fish). Christians usually argue that meat-eating was a result of the fall and not the ideal situation. The fall was as a result of free will; hence not able to be blamed on God (that only applies to supralapsarian Calvinism: itself a small minority of a minority school).

That makes him worse than Hitler by a long long shot.

Really? I don't see how:

1) God allows free will.
2) Free will entails the possibility of rebellion and evil.
3) Hitler ushered in one such massive societal rebellion against civilization and evil campaign.
4) God is to blame for Hitler's evil because He allowed free will.
5) Man isn't to blame for Hitler's evil, even though he had the capacity to prevent it altogether.

Could God have given Hitler a heart attack and end the war?

Certainly. The fact that He didn't is no proof that He isn't good, if some other plausible scenario can be imagined, consistent with His goodness.

Could utopian, naively pacifistic, Fabian socialist, occult- and sex-obsessed Englishmen in the 1930s have stopped the German military build-up, which was obvious? Yes. Can God be blamed because they didn't? Nope. Can WWII be directly blamed on their failure to see the writing on the wall? Yes, of course.

You can't start a war if you don't have the military weaponry to do so in the first place, it seems obvious to me. But all you want to do is blame God because He didn't strike down the madman. Isn't it better for us to do that: does the parent have to do absolutely everything for his child when the child is capable? Clearly not. You act like human beings are like babies who can do nothing; hence God must do everything by way of preventing any evil.

This is a clear case where He didn't have to do so. Men could have done everything necessary to prevent it. And in fact we did end it when we woke up to what was happening; after London was bombed, etc. Self-interest and self-defense. Pearl Harbor quickly got isolationist America in the war, didn't it? Prior to that even London being bombed wasn't enough. That wakes people up fast and motivates them to do what they avoided doing previously. 9-11 did the same in our own time, but it didn't take long for certain schools of thought to put their heads in the sand again and pretend that fighting back isn't necessary.

If so, he could've stopped a thousand Hitlers.

Yes; no argument there. The question at hand is whether He must do so in order to be believed to be as Christians think Him to be. We say no.

This is irrational. It makes no more sense to blame God for the evil choices of creatures he created free than it does to blame a good parent for sins of a child of his or her own volition, committed after the parent trusted the child to be responsible with its freedom. You can't blame one being for the sins of another; at some point there is individual responsibility. That's why it is ridiculous to blame God for Hitler.

If a mother gave a two-year old a razor blade she would be held culpable. And if she sat by and did nothing while my older brother beat me to death she could be considered an accomplice.

That's correct. But in the case of the two-year-old, the mother is clearly culpable because the child isn't old enough to know that it could be harmed by a razor blade (till it starts cutting, that is, then it can figure out some causal relationship, I think). That just proves my point that you are irrationally regarding the human race and adults with brains and responsibilities for free actions, as the equivalent of babies in diapers, with rattles rather than adult brains and the capacity to make intelligent and virtuous choices.

The other example at least makes a little sense (though you didn't give an age of the brothers). There I would say that this is our responsibility as humans: to prevent harm insofar as possible. As for God in this analogy, I could easily argue that He set the world in motion and allowed free will because He wanted us to be responsible and to do good ourselves, not rely on Him to automatically make every situation we have screwed up right again. In effect, it is allowing His grown-up children to look after themselves. That's what the analogy of God to parents involves, too.

Now God can intervene at times, but it'll be the exception, just as a parent would assume that children of a certain age should be able to get along without killing each other. The human race knows more than enough to stop warring with each other and butchering children in their mothers' wombs, but it doesn't because of sin.

What's so complicated about knowing that it is bad to start killing each other for greedy reasons or sexual "freedom" or no reason at all in many cases? We can solve that ourselves, but evil and the propensity of man for evil makes what should be simple, impossible to achieve in fact.

I don't see that God is under an absolute obligation to rectify things that we have screwed up. He has promised a better world that He will rule, where all things will eventually be made right. That's more than enough, in my opinion. We don't even deserve that. We all should be condemned to hell for our corporate rebellion, but God in His great mercy gives us a chance to repent and be saved.

But even if that made any sense, why do you atheists not give God any credit for all the good which comes from free will? If you want to hold Him accountable for all the bad things that men do to each other, or the natural events that can hardly be otherwise in a sensible, orderly universe, then how come you never give Him any credit for anything?

Because there is so much unalleviated suffering in the world we just don't think there is a God.

That didn't answer my question. I agree there is a lot of evil and that it is a difficulty to understand. I asked why you never give God (even a hypothetical God, for the sake of argument) any credit; only blame for bad stuff that is often clearly man's fault?

Hitler's Germany was a Christian nation and all you can do is to ask about Hitler from my perspective?

The people may have been, but the regime was not, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a grotesque mixture of corrupted romanticism, paganism, and occultism. The Final Solution was not justified on Christian grounds.

So I suppose American slavery was not justified on Christian grounds either?

No; it certainly was. But wrongly so. Biblical servanthood (and often, pagan servanthood) is not nearly the same thing as American slavery was. The Bible condemned the oppressive sort of slavery. Ever heard of the Exodus from Egypt? That's why black slaves often saw that as an analogy: God desired them to be free, just as with the Hebrew Egyptian slaves. It was only the characteristic of greed that caused Christians to justify such outrages.

But that was a clever way of switching the subject, wasn't it? Perhaps you hoped that I wouldn't notice, or that readers wouldn't? Ah, but not when I point it out.

Who speaks for Christianity?

Another rabbit trail. I would say as a Catholic, that the pope does, preeminently.


I do, insofar as I am a Catholic lay apologist devoted to defending Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, and representing the beliefs of that system to the very best of my ability, and in submission to its authority.

Based upon hindsight?

Based upon the history of Christianity, the Bible, Church authority, authoritative apostolic tradition, and reason.

If He stopped Hitler by the miraculous and abrogation of his free will, then we would have a world where no one was free, and every bad, evil thing is immediately prevented

False dichotomy. You've just got to stop thinking in terms of extremes and clear black and whites here.

It's not extreme. It is a conclusion based on an unspoken chain of reasoning (and a sort of reductio ad absurdum). You guys say God should intervene practically at every turn, and prevent all these evils. If He can do so once, then (according to you, it seems), He ought to do so massively, in every case, since why would one be more worthy of attention than another? Why should God not immediately heal a child's scrape or a hang nail or a blister or pimple if He is required to alleviate every misery known to man, in order to be believed for what He is?

There is no sensible stopping point. So I say it is most logical to believe that He simply lets the world operate according to the laws of nature and the results of human free will, with only rare miraculous intervention (yes, even up to and including Hitler).

The other sort of world makes no sense to me. It really doesn't. But heaven makes sense to me. That is different precisely because to enter it we had to pass some sort of test, and accept the grace that God gave us in order to be saved. THEN we can have perfect happiness.

God clearly directed free willed creatures in the Bible, it's claimed, so why not do something about the horrendous evils which lead atheists to say he doesn't exist if God wants us to believe?

Precisely because those same free willed creatures are able to alleviate most suffering themselves. Atheists will find reasons not to believe no matter what. We maintain that there is more than enough evidence for theism and Christianity. That's why many thinking people accept it and why atheism has always been a minority viewpoint even in western civilization, with all its marvelous intellectual and technological, artistic and musical and architectural achievements.

God makes your task harder and harder all of the time. I don't envy your task here.

I'm doing fine, thank you. I'm not trembling under your supposed profundities of anti-Christian argument, as you seem to think we all will, if we read your stuff. To the contrary, invariably when I take on opposing arguments, my faith grows stronger. It happens every time, and is one of the blessings of professional apologetics. I get to make the arguments and get the added bonus of having my faith strengthened by observing how the non-Christian arguments routinely fail to hit their mark and achieve their purpose, or to see how they are downright fallacious.

But God could avert these tragedies, if for no other reason to help you out in explaining why evil exists.

I think whatever the reason is that He allows them (and I believe Christians probably have a pretty good idea at least about some possible reasons why He does so), it wouldn't be for any reason so trivial as that.

You say my moral code is subjectively chosen? Well then, where does your God's moral code come from?

It's eternal. Therefore, it "comes from" nothing. It always existed in God. God is Love. Yours is certainly subjective because you can't create an absolute larger than yourself and applicable to all, no matter how hard you try. That has to come from a Being Who transcends creation and mankind itself.

That's of course another subject, and I consistently refuse to be drawn off-topic while an important, meaty debate is already taking place. But some day I'd be happy to.

No comments: