Ugly apologetics

It’s a beaten up issue, I know, but I’m going to delve into the Problem of Evil. For purposes here, “evil” is synonymous with the objective evil theists believe exists.

This first set of premises comes from a friend, but I’m just going to copy them since they reflect what we all recognize as the form of this argument. (And, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were just taken from somewhere else for the sake of ease.)

1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
Evil exists.
5. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
6. Therefore, God does not exist [as we know him]

This is an obvious problem for the Christian God (and other gods, but we’ll focus here). If God has all the listed properties and desires, then evil needs a special explanation. Of course, the most common response is that God has given us free will and that necessarily entails evil. But obvious problems arise from such a weak answer.

1. We’ve already agreed that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. This means he knows that the creation of free will is going to lead to evil. This is in conflict with the premise that God desires to eliminate all evil. That is, he has knowingly either created evil or created the potential for evil with the foresight that evil will actually happen. For the free will argument to work here, God cannot desire the elimination of evil.

1b. This argument assumes that free will is better than no free will. If, however, we agree that God chiefly desires the elimination of evil (and for him to be morally perfect, I think he must), then free will is not better than no free will.

2. Not all evil comes from human action. If we consider suffering to be evil, then Huntington’s Disease is evil, but we have no humans to blame. Whether we want to blame God or chance, God has allowed that evil to exist. That is, evil exists and free will cannot explain it.

3. Another argument, though less common, is that in order for good to exist, there must be evil. If this is true, then we must first look towards God. He is eternal and he is good. In order for this to be true, evil must also be eternal. If it isn’t eternal, but it is required for goodness, then God cannot be eternal. But God is the only thing that can be considered to be eternal. That doesn’t mean evil cannot exist; it must. It, however, can only exist as a property of God. If it isn’t a property of God, and good requires evil, then God has not been eternally good. That is, evil is a property of God by necessity of also making him good. But God is morally perfect; he can have no evil. If evil is necessary for good and God therefore has evil, God is not good. We’ve violated premise 1.

The fact is, there is no good answer to the problem of evil. This, however, unfortunately leads to the conclusion that if there is evil, God must not exist. But that isn’t the case. All this argument is saying is that God does not exist with the given properties. If, in order to exist in any form, one believes God must have those properties, then this argument does say he doesn’t exist. But if someone wanted to claim that God need not have all these properties, the Problem can be avoided. Or, if they say he need not obey human logic, then he can exist with or without evil all he wants. Of course, we can’t go any further in discussion since we’ve thrown logic out the window, and we have to admit that such a claim can be just as wrong as it can be right, but the Problem of Evil has been circumvented. (Naturally, it isn’t surprising that the best way the Christian God can work is with a lack of logic.)

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Atheism, worldviews, and responsibility

A bit of a firestorm has broken out on FTSOS’ fan page (or is it a “Like Page”? Silly Facebook). A number of claims have been made which deserve a response (if only because I initiated the discussion), but since the comment system on Facebook is inadequate, an entire blog post is necessary. Besides, a number of logical mistakes have been made in the discussion which are all too common among theists.

To give some context, this is the line which started it all (minus an apparent typo).

This is worth repeating, too: atheism has never been responsible for an act of evil. Ever.

The first substantial criticism was one that amounted to little more than semantics.

Of course those are not examples of atheism being responsible for acts of evil. No more than Christianity is responsible for the crusades or Islam is responsible for suicide bombings. People are responsible for these things.

This person was likely trying to excuse ideas as having any sort of responsibility, and strictly speaking, I suppose that’s true. An idea is powerless without a conscious act or consciousness behind it. But I think it’s also obvious that ideas influence, inspire, and drive people. No one ignores Islam as a major component in 9/11 or the abuse of women in places like Saudi Arabia.

It’s inappropriate – and plainly wrong – to try and separate people from ideas. If we aren’t a composition of ideas and memes, what are we? The vast majority of the people – especially the religious – don’t want to say humans are merely their genes, but that’s the alternative to excusing all manner of ideas in order to create this inane wall where no ideology or systematic pattern of thought bears any responsibility. Just ask: if people are responsible for all actions, not ideas, then what causes people to act?

Of course, some people do get it.

The difference is that atheism is NOT an ideology. Atheism has no moral grounds, no rules, no dogma, no tenets. Nothing can be caused by atheism because there is nothing within atheism TO cause anything. Atheists come from all walks of life, there is not one type of atheist, which (sic) one set of beliefs.

This is precisely correct. Atheism is a descriptive, not a normative claim. The same goes for agnosticism and pure deism. There are no values which come with the claims themselves. People can and do build values around particular claims, but the claims themselves remain merely descriptive.

The next one goes a little off-topic, but still deserves a response.

This is worth repeating. Ideologies are not responsible for acts of evil. Only people are.

And also, for one to call something evil, one must have an objective moral standard.

An atheist has no objective standard with which to back up his rants against “evil” because for the atheist objective evil does not exist. He is full of contradictions.

Again, if ideologies are not responsible (and again, in the semantic sense of being a primary inspiration or drive), then how are people responsible? Are we genetically driven towards action? If so, we aren’t really all that responsible. Do all humans have an equal set of facts on which they act? Or, to bend over backwards, do humans only act on facts, whether real or perceived? If that was true, then ideological actions would become less consistent: the Republicans wouldn’t compose a solid block of doing nothing because plenty of facts fall far outside their current ideology (and the same goes for Democrats or any political party).

As for calling something evil, no objective standard is necessary. This whole line of argument obviously assumes that morality is an objective endeavor. The whole thing just pigeon holes all moral cases to needing a god. Ironically, even those who claim to have an objective source for morality often call things evil even when their source is silent.

Looking back through all the ethical philosophers, it becomes obvious that very few who weren’t also theologians (and really, are theologians even philosophers?) bothered with claims of needing an objective source. Those espousing utilitarianism, libertarianism, and even natural law theory often ignored the use of any gods in their systems. They came up with a basis – the good is pleasure/reduction of pain, the good is liberty, the good is what is natural, etc – and developed systems of thought from there. These systems of thoughts, in turn, influenced their actions as well as the actions of those who agreed/agree with them. That’s what ideologies, ideas, and systems do. The modern day teabaggers, while extremely inconsistent with their ideology, are generally moved to action by libertarian ideas. Of course, since they’re inconsistent (and they don’t really know it), they strictly apply their ideology in a way that will garner them more personal wealth. But regardless of this inability to recognize their own internal philosophical flaws, they are loosely driven by libertarianism because ideas are what bring people to action.

This next one is a response to the claim that atheism is not a philosophy or world view.

Let’s put your grammatical error aside for one moment and look at this statement with the help of my old friend Althusser. Althusser is a great guy when it comes to Ideologies. He states that we are interpellated into an ideology by our reject of other ideologies. For example: I do not believe in God, I am NOT a theist/deist. Therefore I am an Atheism (sic). Please note, this is not referring to me. I am certainly not an Atheist, but a trainee Priest instead. And, my dears, Atheism is as much a world view as anything else. It influence the way you VIEW the WORLD. Therefore, world view.

(Link added by me.)

The fact that volcanoes and Earthquakes happen also influence the way I view the world. Poverty and wealth hold influence, too. Oh, and the existence of such varied landscapes as the deserts of Utah and the mountains of Maine influence my world view. That doesn’t mean any of those constitute world views per se. They are not ideologies or even ideas. It takes more than something to merely be a fact (or perceived fact) in order for it to be a world view.

And finally, this old canard had to be trotted out.

PS. You call De/Theists ‘predictable’ for using Stalin/Mao/Hitler/etc as examples of ‘Atheist Evil’, yet spew out The Inquisition/Crusades/Salem Witch Trials as your examples for the counter-argument. Are you familiar with the notion of the pot calling the kettle black?

First, whether or not Hitler was an atheist is dubious at best. As late as 1941 he was saying he would always be a Catholic. Second, Stalin and Mao never acted out of some sort of atheistic inspiration. They couldn’t have. The idea is as absurd as saying someone acted out of deistic inspiration. How? How can descriptive claims also be normative claims? What would that look like:

“The fact that there is some sort of creator has told me to do X, Y, and Z. Just ignore for a moment the fact that my belief inherently tells me nothing about the characteristics or traits of this creator, thereby giving me no normative information.

Or agnosticism.

The fact that I don’t know has told me to do X, Y, and Z. Just ignore for a moment the fact that a lack of clarity doesn’t tell me how to act.

Or atheism.

The fact that there is no god has told me to do X, Y, and Z. Just ignore for a moment the fact that my belief is not an ethical system, makes no normative claims, and doesn’t inform me of any sort of morality.

The fact is that religion was what inspired the Inquisition, Crusades, and witch trials. It is the inspiration for the great tragedies, like the anti-science movement that has existed for so many thousands of years, to the more benign such as the Blue Laws many states still hold. Religion is a divisive ideology which drives people to act and behave in particular ways.