Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not quite the double standard you were thinking

Hey, kids. Yes, I'm back. Been back a few days in fact. And I'm finally ready to post again, so here's my first, in reply to a letter received responding to the conversation with Behe fan "Garry" on the last show I did with Matt. Our correspondent begins:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, and I am a friendly/open-minded agnostic theist. So with my introduction out of the way, here is my email:

In the Problem of Evil debate, skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence formulate their argumentation as follows:

(1) If there were an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God, then (due to His unlimited knowledge and unlimited power) He would be able to prevent gratuitous/pointless evil and suffering that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(2) Because God would have such a capability, and because He is supposedly all-good, he would act on that capability and prevent the gratuitous/pointless suffering and evil that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(3) But, there is lots of evils and sufferings that occur in the world (which have not been prevented by the supposed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God), and much of it is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good (and therefore seems to be gratuitous/pointless).

(4) Therefore, the conclusion is that there does not exist a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.

Now, many theists argue against the argument of ‘The Problem of Evil’ presented above by way of refuting premise (3) and saying that there is no evil that is gratuitous/pointless, and that all evil is logically necessary for adequately compensating goods. One of the ways in which they do this is by presenting ‘The Contrast Response,’ which basically says that if there were no evil in the world, we would not be aware of the good. God then allows evil to make us aware of goodness, since this awareness in itself is a good.

But, many skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence do not accept ‘The Contrast Response’ because they claim that it is not necessarily the case that our minds work this way. Essentially, they believe that we would still be aware of goodness even if there were less (or even no) evil to contrast it. So they say that ‘The Contrast Response’ is logically invalid.

That being said, I am assuming that you (Matt and Martin) are not exceptions (and have the same point of contention in regards to ‘The Contrast Response’).

So if I am actually correct about my assumption and your point of contention and belief that our minds don’t need contrasting things in order to be aware of (or recognize) non-contrasting things, why then (in episode # 660, which occurred on Sunday, 6/06/2010 and while responding to Garry from Manhattan, NY and his example of irreducibly complex systems) did you (Matt and Martin) flip the contrast response (which you do not accept as being valid in the problem of evil argument) around in order to claim (within the context of the argument of creationism) that in order to know if something was created, we have to first have an example of something that wasn’t created to compare it with (or contrast it to)? To me, this seems like a logically fallacious contradiction???

Our correspondent is wrong in his assumption of where I stand on "The Contrast Response." I don't reject the notion that a knowledge of the difference between good and evil is a vital element of ascertaining one's moral positions. What I reject is the notion that an omnibenevolent God is necessary for such an understanding, especially one who would continue to allow gratuitous evils to occur long after the human race had well and truly understood those differences and had established laws to punish them. Why, in this day and age, would God allow (to use the most button-mashing of examples) the continued sexual abuse of children? Are there significant pockets of human civilization (apart from the Vatican) who still do not understand this is a deplorable act, and therefore, children must still be put through the anguish of sexual abuse in order to make those people aware of its evil, and of the goodness of not abusing children in contrast?

Another objection would be that, even if one accepts the notion of God's allowing acts of evil in the world for the sake of "compensating goods" (and I don't know that I accept the idea of non-victims of evil realizing how lucky they are to be a "compensating good"), this would still not absolve God of the moral responsibility to stop such acts of evil when he can. Honestly, in what way would God's refusal to prevent the sexual abuse of a child — thereby presumably allowing us to experience the horror of the act so as to better appreciate it when children aren't raped — constitute a better "compensating good" than for him simply to blast the assailant to smithereens with a well-aimed lightning bolt? Who would be sitting around thinking, "Gosh, I don't understand, why did God do that to that poor man?"

Why establish good and evil as concepts if not to enforce them? A common argument in theodicy is that God must allow evil for an understanding of good. But how are we mere mortals expected to reach such an understanding if God doesn't explain which is which and punish the evil when it happens? Instead, it seems we are meant to work it out for ourselves which are good and evil acts, as God apparently cannot interfere in the interests of not undermining our supposed free will.

The great irony of this form of theodicy is that it ends up rendering God irrelevant. Atheists and secular moralists do argue that we are the ones responsible for determining the differences between good and evil...but that we are perfectly capable of doing this by using our intellects and our empathy to evaluate the consequences of human actions, rejecting those which are destructive.

Any theodicy that proposes a God as the architect of moral precepts, only to immediately take Him out of the picture, leaving humanity to deal with good and evil on our own, pragmatic terms, might as well concede the argument and pack it in. A God who refuses to prevent gratuitous destructive acts for any reason is one who has, if He exists, surrendered His moral authority and is deserving of no thanks from us.

Additionally, even if I am wrong about my assumption [and you guys actually DO accept the contrast response as a good response to the problem of evil—or reject it for another reason that I have not presented above—(and therefore have not contradicted yourselves)], why do you even find the merit in asking a theist to provide an example of something that was not created, anyways? Essentially, asking a theist to provide an example of something that wasn’t created is unfair, because if he/she is a common theist and believes that God exists, he/she also believes that EVERYTHING [including natural things] in our physical universe was created by Him (which would mean that to the theist there would be no example of an uncreated thing that he/she could provide, because no such example would exist).

As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question. So essentially, I think that asking Garry to provide such an example was an invalid (and therefore unnecessary) form of argumentation.

This is because, like Garry, you fail to understand that a key component of any scientific hypothesis — which is what ID wants to be — is falsifiability. In order to determine if your hypothesis is even valid in its basic premises, you have to be able to answer this question: "If what I am proposing is not true, what conditions would I expect to find existing today?" Therefore someone insisting that life was intelligently designed must be able to answer, "If life were not designed, what would it look like?" It's hardly unfair or invalid. It's basic science.

And yes, this question has been answered in regards to evolution, and very simply. When asked what he thought would falsify evolution, biologist J.B.S. Haldane answered simply, "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." If anything in the fossil record were not where it was supposed to be in the timeline, this would be a problem. But it has not been a problem. Indeed, evolutionary theory has been validated many times in its predictive power, another important factor establishing scientific validity. Tiktaalik was found right where paleontologists were sure a certain transitional fossil of its type would have to be found if it existed at all.

If insisting that Garry state the way in which ID or any other design hypothesis was falsifiable was "unfair," it can only be in the way a scientifically illiterate fellow set himself up to be humiliated in his ignorance on live television. But that's hardly our fault. If some creationist calls us, trying to peddle an inferior product, and proceeds to lecture authoritatively on a subject about which he is in fact ignorant, a little humiliation is the least he has coming.


  1. Martin, you're missing the most obvious response, which is that an all-powerful god could teach us about good and evil WITHOUT subjecting children to abuse, or the rest of us to any other form of suffering. It can do ANYTHING, yet it seems to choose a very cruel way to get the job done. An all-powerful god could accomplish anything it wanted to, teach us anything it needed to, without resorting to such tactics.

    The writer's argument is ridiculous. An all-powerful AND all-good god does not correlate at all with what we see in reality today. The god with both of those qualities simply does not exist.

  2. You're quite right, but I wanted to give a very specific criticism instead of just "But God can do anything!" Obviously, an all-powerful God can do anything, but might still choose to do certain things in certain ways. Responding to things like the whole W.L. Craig argument about God having "morally sufficient reasons" for allowing evils to occur requires showing that those reasons are nothing of the kind.

  3. I wonder...

    If I saw an evil being committed, which I knew I could prevent with no risk of failure, and yet did nothing to prevent it, would the theist think I was being morally virtuous?

    After all, if I stopped the crime, then I would be stopping an evil which is 'logically necessary for adequately compensating goods' (because otherwise god would not allow it to happen in the first place).

    I'm sure the theist wouldn't. So my question is why:

    Why is it moral for god to abstain from doing an action and yet immoral for me to also do nothing?

    If, in a given situation, not preventing an evil is the greatest good that god could do, then (at least if morality is objective and absolute) not preventing the same evil must also be the greatest good for me. Likewise, if, in a given situation, preventing an evil is the greatest good I could do, then it must also be the case for god (assuming morality is objective and absolute).

    It strikes me that the theist is trying to place god outside the bounds of morality (i.e. god controls whether good or evil even exist) and yet is trying to describe god with words dependent on morality (i.e god is omni-benevolent) and thus is also trying to place god inside the bounds of morality.

  4. I think the biggest problem with the "Contrast Response" is that it assumes all actions sit on a sliding scale between good and evil. Really there are two scales, one with good at at the one extreme, one with evil at one extreme, and both with "morally neutral" at the opposite end.

    All actions sit on one scale or the other and it's up to society (of which religion is a part) to decide which one.

    Not raping children is not a morally good decision, it is morally neutral. Not giving away all of your money to the poor is not a morally bad decision, it is also morally neutral.

    In this vein, it's quite possible to tell the difference between good and not good, where "not good" is not "evil", but simply "neutral". Refusing to do evil is not "good" in and of itself, it's neutral. Not going out of your way to do good is not evil, either.

    It's the same way you don't need a giant hole in the ground to be able to spot the mountain in front of you. The opposite of "forrest" isn't something called an "anti-forrest", it's simply a lack of trees. Black is not "anti-white", it's the lack of light. The lack of something is not necessarily the opposite of it.

    It's very easy to tell the difference between compassion and apathy, we don't need callousness there to tell the difference. It's also very easy to tell the difference between consensual sex and no sex at all, we don't need rape to know the difference, yet god apparently allows rape.

  5. If it chooses to do things by inflicting any harm at all, or allowing any harm to take place, it is not all-good. If Craig thinks there are moral reasons for doing it this way then it isn't powerful enough to find another way.

    The only way out of this conundrum that I see is for the theist to claim that I simply don't understand what "good" is. That it IS good to allow a child to be raped, etc, and that I am morally inferior for not raping children. In that case, I think we end up at Matt's, "I'm morally superior to your god" argument.

    Perhaps we should make laws requiring any all-powerful beings to respond when a person is in danger or is suffering. That might get those beings off of their asses.

  6. Even if the contrast thing was what was going on. God is thus evil for making sentient beings for the soul purpose of subjecting them to rape/murder/starvation etc so his preferred sentient beings can better from it. This point of view doesn't make it better, it turns the whole universe into a machine run on Soylent Green!

  7. Admin you are asking for a bible to be thrown at you. The immediate response to the question "Why doesn't god teach the rules?" is "He did and it's in the bible". Don't hand a theist ammunition to shoot you down.

  8. I do not need to put my 2-year old daughter's hand into a fire to teach her what is hot.

    She knows what is nearly hot and she doesn't like it. We do not need a trip to the burns unit to learn these lessons.

    Equally, I learned the horror of serial killers from watching "Silence of the Lambs".

    6 millions Jews did not have to die for me to understand the true horror of genocide - 100,000 would have been more than adequate. (I'm not being glib there - 0 is, of course, the correct number).

    "God" could easily teach us about these things through stories and near misses. Human civilization had been doing that "like-for-ever".

    So actual experience of "evil" is not necessary. That's just a BS argument.

  9. David:

    Additionally, I have an old newspaper clipping in my file drawers about a boy named Bradley Magee. He was born to young and abusive parents. He was removed from the home, but placed back. Then removed again. The second time, the parents went before the judge to petition to get him back (why they even wanted him, I have no clue, as they exhibited no love toward the boy). BOTH sets of grandparents petitioned to ask the judge NOT to return the child to their monstrous children. But the courts, despite all opposition, was of the view that keeping the family together was the primary goal. Bradley was returned at 3 years old.

    After he went back, he was in the process of potty training. He soiled his pants, and his father, to "teach him," took the boy by both ankles and slammed him repeatedly, head first, into the porcelain toilette bowl. Bradley's brain began bleeding, and he died. Both parents were sentenced to prison.

    Now, WTF did anyone "learn" from THAT episode--where theists claim god was the only witness? Where good people TRIED to intervene? One simple influence over one judge could have made the difference between life and death--and additional pain for this kid. But no, he had to suffer and die at the hands of what should have been loving parents--why?

    In another case, a guy was in a custody battle with his ex-wife. To spite her, he took their young son to a hotel room and set it ablaze, planning, he claimed to kill them both. However, as "luck" would have it, he got out of the inferno, but his boy was not as lucky. Oh, he didn't die. But he was hideously and permanently disfigured. And what was learned? Apparently nothing by the father--who was the one who clearly needed a lesson. As, after 10 years, when his sentence was ending, he petitioned for VISITATION! Fortunately, the courts slapped it down--as the boy was older then and could express a desire NOT to see the beast that did this.

    Then a friend of mine had twin girls. After nearly a year, one died of crib death at day care.

    What is the "point"? What is the "lesson" here? Good people were, as you say, already disgusted by this sort of thing BEFORE it occurred. So, they learned nothing. And the perpetrators? I don't see evidence they turned into decent people after time in the penitentiary?

    If someone wants to claim these things represent good, the burden is on them to PROVE IT. I see no good out of this, only horror. And if they can call this good--they're as bad as the perpetrators in my view. Go and see this burned up child, and tell him what happened was "good"?! Go an tell the grieving mother she'll be a better person for her lost daughter. Go and tell Bradley's grandparents it was somehow beneficial he was beaten to death?!

    If they can do that--to me it's only evidence their religion _has_ really stripped them of all their evolved humanity!

  10. But I should add that in my own response to this letter, I indicated that if god IS "all powerful" then he is not restricted to methods which use suffering to achieve an end. There is no such thing as "god had to..." if god is all powerful. God could have done whatever he intended using other methods not involving suffering. That's the cool thing about being able to do _anything_.

    So, any "lesson" or perceived benefit to suffering could have been achieved just as effectively WITHOUT suffering. So, ALL suffering is UNNECESSARY in a world where an omnipotent god exists.

    Once we say "the purpose of suffering..." we must add "the method using suffering was only selected, seemingly, either by caprice or on purpose, as god doesn't care if we suffer or prefers us to."

    And anyone who can either "not care" or "want" what happened to Bradley Magee to occur is not good and not benevolent toward humanity.

  11. Admin: I agree, and wrote back to this same viewer with that point. So, he did see your point as well.

  12. Am I the only one who think she strawmaninated step (4) with the problem of evil?

    From what I understood, the purpose is to point out that the god, as they propose it, is contradictory, and isn't likely to exist.

    I always thought that a biblical god that was fairly powerful, fairly knowledgeable and fairly good-intentioned, would be much more believable.

  13. Also, depression, schizophrenia, etc, why force people to be tortured by their own brains? For the greater good of the pharmaceutical and asylum industries?

    Hell, if being gay is so horrible to god, how bout just stop making people gay?

    Oh well, "God works in mysterious, inefficient, and breathtakingly cruel ways"

  14. ..of course, it helps if I read the second half of his sentence.

  15. God has taught me of the evil inherent in earthquakes, tsunamis, and child rape, yet He keeps me blissfully ignorant of the evil of poultry infected with rabies or of every human in Hollywood being instantly replaced with a clone of Ashton Kutcher. Why?

    God seems very selective in the evils He perpetrates, and it would seem that more creativity on this front could educate us better.

    To put it another way, this contrast argument is bogus. Not realizing that tornadoes suck seems a fine price to pay for there not being any tornadoes, just as I'm none the worse off for having no knowledge of spontaneous penis explosions. Thinking otherwise is morality fail.

  16. Before the beginning, there was nothing, but god. Then god set the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND EVIL in the Garden of Eden. What could the tree have represented if god was only good and no evil had yet been perpetrated? Where did god get his understanding of evil (which is required for him to have created such a tree) if he's all good and no evil had been introduced yet into existence? Was god "good" before Adam sinned? Or only afterward--when evil had been perpetrated?

  17. @ Eyedunno

    Good point. Are Blazarikrigs good or bad? If we don't deal with them we don't know, but who cares since we don't have to deal with them.

    The argument is also pure bullshit, what parent, even christian ones, doesn't try to shield their children from facts like Rape, genocide, pedophilia etc? They try to keep such traumatizing info away from them at young ages and would probably prefer that they never had to deal with it. No parent gives his kid to a NAMBLA or priest to show him why rape is wrong.

  18. Dances with the beast:

    "Admin you are asking for a bible to be thrown at you. The immediate response to the question "Why doesn't god teach the rules?" is "He did and it's in the bible". Don't hand a theist ammunition to shoot you down."

    That's not at all what I meant in my comment, and I don't recall asking why we weren't taught the rules. Whether or not the scriptures teach anything from a god or not, the point being that this god cannot be all-good, because of the ways it chooses to teach. A lot of people were murdered in those scriptures to supposedly teach us a lesson, so it doesn't really matter if they quote bible verses at me or not, there is a counter. The all-good, all-powerful god simply cannot exist, or else this world would look a lot different. That is the point, whether I get scripture thrown at me or not, and it works for any religion with such a claim.

  19. Even if we accept that suffering is somehow necessary for us to be able to appreciate the good, I can't help but wonder; why do we have to be taught this over and over again?

    Personally, one story about child rape is more than enough for me to get the point that it's horribly evil. So why does god allow it to continue to happen? Surely, all the people who are going to get the point already have.

    If god thinks we haven't quite gotten it yet, it raises other questions. Considering that child rape has been going on for a very long time, and apparently we haven't learned from it (if we'd learned, then there would be no point in continuing it, right?), isn't it pretty stupid to keep using the same method of teaching?

    I mean, if we haven't gotten it by now, maybe god should try to explain it in some other way.

    What would you think of a teacher who, when the student didn't get the point, just repeated the same thing over and over and over...

    Does that sound like a very wise teacher to you?

    So, it is possible that god is all-good and all-powerful, but he's just also really fucking stupid.

  20. @Admin- actually the first comment on this post sounds very much like you were asking why god did not teach us. I thought the same thing when reading it, that a theist would say "it's taught in the bible". Of course I would counter that it's taught poorly and with great ambiguity. Your greater point is entirely correct, though.

    A problem with this entire argument is that the theists do not have to deal with how things actually are in reality. they only have to surmise any justification a super being could possibly have for evil stuff and suffering everywhere. When there is no restraint on your imagination, it can be pretty easy to rationalize yourself into all sorts of "possible" scenarios. Even why god allows evil. After all, none of these claims are testable except as mental exercises in logic, which is where most of them ultimately fail. But the common people are not necessarily well practiced in applying logic to their unrestrained imagination (how else could "free will" be generally accepted as a complete answer). This is the purview of philosophers. Oh, and us.

  21. I also thought that the question how the universe would look like without god was unfair. Richard Dawkins said a few times the universe would look quite different if god existed but never says how. I have no idea how a universe with god would look like or even how to get to that picture. Surely the “Fossil rabbit in the pre-Cambrian“ would falsify the ToE but that does not mean that if the ToE was false there would actually be that fossil rabbit.

    In order to test a design-detection system you would need a blinded set-up there you have to similar things one designed and one non-designed. What you don't need to do is try to imagine how something designed or non-designed would look like.

    The other thing is you seem to imply that if there was only a “little” evil the “Problem of Evil” would go away. May I ask what the Evil threshold is to make the “Problem of Evil” a sound argument.

    Additionally you are changing the topic. The “Problem of Evil” is an argument against the existence of god. In this context Evil is not an argument for the existence of God.

  22. I also thought that the question how the universe would look like without god was unfair.

    It's fair if the claim is "the universe looks like it was designed by a god." In order to make that claim, you have to have A) some set of characteristics that mark a universe as 'designed by a god' and B) some set of characteristics that mark a universe as 'not designed by a god'. The biggest problem with all cosmological arguments is that theists are trying to draw conclusions from a sample size of one. Without other universes to examine, it's impossible to say what the odds of the universal constants being one particular way are, or what characteristics are available to different kinds of universes, or what methods there are for universes to come about in the first place, or what would happen if the constants differed, and so forth. With a sample size this small, you can't determine what the constraints are on any of those factors, so any argument which relies on talking about probabilities or characteristics of the universe being one way or another is pulled entirely from the theist's ass.

  23. @ Foss

    I argue that we can extrapolate to a degree from natural objects versus engineered objects.

    The problem is that creationism argues that everything is really engineered destroying the contrast which we use as a guide line. Of course they also insist on using that analogy to watches and clock makers and air travel vehicles in scrap yards and on-board motors, so it's a bit ingenuous.

    It's like arguing "everything is tall, and then proving it by claiming everything shows signs of a giant by comparing it to a midget"

    In a world of all watches, there would be no concept of not-watch. It's a paradoxical argument that has to destroy its own conclusions to try to make any.

  24. "As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question."

    Sigh. No, actually. What it does is show that a theist is absolutely without rationale for the claim that existence requires a creator. If you can't differentiate between created and uncreated, you can't insist that everything was created.

  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. I'm not sure if this is quite on topic,but it gives me a chance to voice something that annoys me. It is certainly in keeping with a conversation I had , on IM, last night with Martin.

    It involved the intellectual dishonesty, and cowardice, required to keep theodicy educationally palatable in the light of modern understanding and reasoning.

    I have just encountered a prime example.

    I came across a video, posted by a radio show host called "shockofgod", which asked "Why don't atheists bash Satan?"

    I immediately replied, (within the 500 character limitation, so not too articulately) only to encounter the caption: "Comment pending approval"

    "Fair enough", you might say, "he's filtering out trolls and spammers". But, this guy is actually a subscriber of mine (unsolicited) on that very same format.
    Equally confusing, in light of the fact that I don't actually post videos to subscribe to!

    He's done this purely on the strength of my written comments, and with a view to monitor them.
    I would have thought he would welcome an opportunity for some dialogue?.
    I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but this far from a unique response, from him, to my comments.

    Incidently, here is my comment (Answer, actually) :-

    "Why blame the tool and the work of this tool , when you can "bash" the the "toolmaker" and he who uses the tool to make this evil?
    Or didn't god make Satan evil?
    Can he not prevent him from being evil? God obviously wants evil. or he would "bash" it himself. Why place the responsibility on another "creation"?

    But actually, that was showing your argument more courtesy than it deserves.
    Atheists don't bash "satan" because he's the character in a fairy tale, and not real.
    Same as "God" ".

    The most telling factor, about this, lies in who this guy actually is, and what he claims he is about.
    He runs a radio show where he sets up sceptics to be pulled down with rational argument. He actually rang up an atheist show challenging them to "prove atheim". - (Unfortunately it wasn't A.E and the hosts were far from able to hand him his ass!)
    I think this video is still among his YT posts.
    More tellingly yet, this guy's show was also the suggested medium
    for the (abortive?) debate, between the brilliant science YouTube videomaker "DonExodus", and a very irritating apologist called "Nephilimfree".
    I contacted him (on personal IM) to warn him of potential problems getting a fair debate that features these two characters. (Both of whom, I have had experience with).
    Needless to say, he encountered too much "goalpost shifting" , and reneging ,to make it viable.

    However, My question is, If these guys don't want open minded dialogue, why do they want to hear from non-believers at all?

    It's bloody frustrating!!

  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  29. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


PLEASE NOTE: The Atheist Experience has moved to a new location, and this blog is now closed to comments. To participate in future discussions, please visit

This blog encourages believers who disagree with us to comment. However, anonymous comments are disallowed to weed out cowardly flamers who hide behind anonymity. Commenters will only be banned when they've demonstrated they're nothing more than trolls whose behavior is intentionally offensive to the blog's readership.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.