The Problem of Evil – A Problem for Atheists Too…

This is a study I taught last Sunday on the Problem of Evil.  My approach is largely apologetic in nature and shows that atheism has the same problem we do. In fact the very problem that the atheist brings up defeats their own argument against God’s existence.  The study is 37 minutes long and is broken up into four videos…

VIDEO #1

Video #2

Video #3

Video #4

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    • Hoovooloo
    • July 6th, 2010

    Hello,
    Let me open by stating I am an atheist. I feel like I must post to correct a few errors in your depiction of atheists and the problem of evil (which I’ll abbreviate PoE). I have not had time to finish watching the theodicy portion, unfortunately, but most of the points I make are unrelated to the field of theodicy, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

    To start, why did you begin your video with that particular atheist commentator on youtube (not the Mr. Deity clip, the following one)? I don’t believe he is one of the more popular ones like thuderf00t or potholer54, and he never clearly states the problem of evil. Since you never respond to any of the direct points in his video, and he is clearly one of the less articulate youtube atheists, it seems the purpose of this video is just to provide you with that cheap shot about marijuana. Please, I’d like to hear your reasoning for using this clip.

    Your argument that “good exists, evil does not” lacks a solid foundation. You claim good exists as god created us with the ability to do good, and evil is just the absence of good. However, I can just as easily claim god created us with the ability to do evil, and good is an absence of evil. With the current formulation, you can’t have it both ways. You must either a) admit moral relativism, that neither good nor evil exist, b) admit moral absolutism, that both good and evil exist, and thus so does the PoE, or c) reformulate your argument. Also, you never respond to the reformulate version, replacing “evil” with “evil people,” seemingly rendering your whole “there is no evil” argument moot.

    Your next point is heavily flawed, to the point that I am having trouble understanding the argument. Your restatement of the problem of evil makes no sense. The PoE is an argument against a specific type of god, not all gods–other arguments exist against other types of gods. This is inherent in the PoE statement itself, where the first 3 lines are qualities a proposed god must have for the PoE to apply. If you change the first 3 lines, the logic breaks down, and the conclusion is no longer valid. This is basic logic, and does nothing to the atheist position, as the position is not wholly dependent on the PoE. Thus, I fail to see how the PoE is a problem for atheists–please explain your logic further.

    Finally, I agree with you–the negative argument/negative position cannot be proven. However, you are missing a basic tenet of logic–the negative position is the default position. You admit that atheism is a negative argument, but fail to acknowledge that, being the negative argument/position, it is the default position. Thus, there are no arguments “for” atheism, but in the absence of a valid argument for theism, atheism is the only sound option. The PoE is not an argument “for” atheism, per se, but points out a logical contradiction in the christian god. If true, the PoE would prove the christian god is untenable, and thus christianity is not a valid position. This does not prove atheism, except in the sense that anyone who had chosen christianity would now be forced back to the default position of atheism. However, there are other counter-arguments to christianity–invalidating the PoE isn’t sufficient to claim chistianity is valid, and thus has no immediate bearing on atheism vs. christianity.

    Anyway, I hope to hear some further explanation or responses to these points.

    • schooloffish
    • July 6th, 2010

    Thanks for your response. This video was done in front of a church in 38 minutes and is a very stripped down philosophical summary of the problem of evil.

    I am somewhat confused on how you came to the conclusion that Atheism the default position? Your bias is built right into your answer and makes my point “but in the absence of a valid argument for theism, atheism is the only sound option.” What do you mean by valid argument? Any argument against theism is a negative one (why didn’t God make us with gills), so no sufficient response can ever be given and any plausible response will be rejected because of bias. Remove your bias (which is basically impossible) and theism and deism as plausible is not more logically consistent. I make the claim that God absolutely must allow for evil because material beings cannot recognize immaterial things without contrast. In other words we simply would not see goodness unless we see the opposite of it – badness. I should add to this except for things that we have intimate knowledge of (like our thoughts) we need no contrast for intimate things, however these things cannot be shared with other people (in the same sense). No logical response can be given because you’ve stacked the deck against me. “Prove God but do it in a materialistic world view.” Lets face it, atheism and materialism go hand-in-hand.

    Lastly, I used YouTube Videos that were easy for the people in the audience to understand, so in a sense I was setting up a straw man. Frankly those types of arguments are what we mostly run into, not the well educated philosopher, but the 1 year college student that isn’t thinking about these things, but emoting. Though Hitchins and Dawkins don’t make any better arguments (philosophically speaking).

    Sorry you didn’t follow my argument on the PoE not proving atheism. Basically, my point is, the problem of evil is a problem for atheists too and one must give a plausible explanation for how immaterial things that are associated with evil, like guilt, shame, and a recognition of good and bad can come out of a materialistic world view. “but in the absence of a valid argument” the most sound option is a personal transcendent being. This is why Alvin Plantinga states that believing in God is a properly basic belief, and I agree. In addition, atheists use the PoE to show that God cannot exist if he is not all knowing, powerful and loving. My point was, sure he can. We exist and don’t have those attributes. I conceded that we would not be left with the Christian God, but we would also not be left with atheism. From there we just need to demonstrate that there is not logical inconsistency with theism and evil.

    Lastly, I am not troubled by the argument that God created evil. I don’t see a need to believe that evil is a created thing, but I have to recognize that God allowed people to act evil. I see throughout the pages of scripture that God uses evil and evil people all the time, so it do not trouble me to think that God “created” it. The issue is, I see not logical inconsistent nor is it valid to say that God is evil because he gave someone the capacity to do other than good.

    You sound very educated on this issue and I would appreciate your feedback on my contrast argument, I see no hole in it, but recognize that other might and if you can find one, please feel free to call my an idiot.

    By the way. The Mr Deity videos are awesome. I don’t agree with what he says but I can still recognize funny (though I would have to have a contrast of not funny to see it), and he is a kick!

    • Hoovooloo
    • July 9th, 2010

    Hi again, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

    For this discussion to work, I think we need to start by defining and agreeing on a null hypothesis.

    The null hypothesis is of great importance in logic, science and statistics. The best simple description of the concept I have found is here ( http://www.null-hypothesis.co.uk/science//item/what_is_a_null_hypothesis ). Essentially, the null hypothesis is the unprovable, negative hypothesis. In the case of whether or not unicorns exist, the null hypothesis is that they do not exist–evidence must be presented for their existence before anyone can, with sound logical backing, believe they are real.

    Because the null hypothesis is negative and unprovable (though still falsifiable–it can only be proven wrong, not right), it is considered true until proven otherwise (as opposed to positive hypothesis, which are assumed false until proven). Essentially, given a range of explanations, without evidence for any of them the null explanation is the only logically defensible position

    Now, let’s consider theism/atheism. Descriptions of gods can be divided into two groups–gods which interact with our universe in observable ways, and gods that do not. By interacting with the universe, gods in the first group will produce evidence of their existence, and can thus be proven–therefore, any god in the first group cannot be the null hypothesis.

    The second group do not interact with the universe in any observable fashion. This, of course, means there can be no spiritual experiences, no holy laws or writs passed down, no guidance for humans. A universe with one of these gods would be indistinguishable from an atheistic universe. Now, looking at this as a scientific hypothesis, these gods are inherently unfalsifiable, and thus are not valid hypothesis.

    This leaves us with atheism. As you have already agreed, atheism is unprovable (check) and it is inherently a negative hypothesis [there is no god] (check). Atheism, it would seem, is the null hypothesis when considering gods. Therefore, until god is proven to exist, atheism is the logically defensible position.

    As an aside, there are divisions withing atheism. Some atheists will argue that it is 100% certain there is not a god. This is not the null hypothesis, nor is it my position, or the most popular position. My position is, in the absence of evidence for gods, atheism is the rational position.

    I’ll respond to your other points later, but felt we should work this out first.

    • schooloffish
    • July 13th, 2010

    Just one question for you… If I give you evidence of the existence of God would you accept it to be true and bow you knee to the creator? My suspicion is no. If I were to say, naturalisticlly speaking, something cannot come from nothing. I suspect you would accuse me of God of the gaps. If I were to look at the evidence of the resurrection from a historical and textual critical standpoint, you would likely say, the Bible has been corrupted. If I mentioned the complexity of DNA code and problems with evolution, you would likely state that “we just haven’t figured it out yet”. My point is not that we must prove the existence of God. Christians have said from the beginning that God has left us proof. It is that we are unable to prove a supernatural being by naturalistic means. The burden of proof that you require is so filled with bias that we are unable to play the game anymore. So where the burden of proof shifts is not in proving God exists but that theists must follow your unreasonable terms in developing our proof. In order to meet this burden as an atheist, one must demonstrate that all things that we know to exist can be proven naturalisticlly. If even one thing that we know cannot be proven in this manner than we must be open to other forms of proof. If you reject any other form of proof, then you must reject knowing anything that cannot be proven through your naturalistic world view. Otherwise we need to be open to other methods of proofing things. Observation and repeatability are not the only methods by which we prove something. Certainly proving the actions of a being do not fit within this type of proof. No jury would ever expect to observe the crime in action in order to convict. They would look at the evidence left from the crime and determine guilt or innocence based on that. Certainly I can not prove my own existence, but my intimate knowledge of my thought leads me to a fairly good conclusion that I actually do.

    I think the issue is bias not shifting the burden of proof by Christians. We must remove our bias (both sides) as much as possible and allow the evidence to take us toward the truth.

    One last thing, have you ever considered what naturalism would do if the proof leads to the existence of God? What if God is actually the “right” answer? Would they look at the evidence and accept it or would they reject the evidence and rebel against it? If the answer is the latter then there is bias. I can only speak for myself in saying that I would accept atheism if the evidence leads there, I’m not so sure my opponents would do the same.

    Thanks for writing, it is refreshing to have someone who is intelligent to debate with. Unfortunately, both side seems to take cracks at one another and that is most unhelpful.

    • Hoovooloo
    • July 13th, 2010

    “Just one question for you… If I give you evidence of the existence of God would you accept it to be true and bow you knee to the creator?”

    Yes, if that evidence is scientifically sound (Of course, I would only bow if the evidence supported a god who is looking for praise and worship). However, none of the evidence presented by you, or others, has thus far been scientifically sound.

    “If I were to say, naturalisticlly speaking, something cannot come from nothing. I suspect you would accuse me of God of the gaps.”

    No, I would point out that a) current theories suggest the universe has zero net energy and is, therefore, nothing ( http://161.58.115.79/pubs/mercury/31_02/nothing.html ), and b) the same criticism could be applied to god. Whatever justification by which god exists without a creator can be applied to the universe itself, or some sort of metaverse from which our universe spawned.

    “If I were to look at the evidence of the resurrection from a historical and textual critical standpoint, you would likely say, the Bible has been corrupted.”

    I would say the bible, written decades after the fact, whose only evidence of divinity is that it itself claims it is divine, is not a reliable source.

    “If I mentioned the complexity of DNA code and problems with evolution, you would likely state that “we just haven’t figured it out yet”.”

    No, I would point to my previous comment. If we agree atheism is the null hypothesis (which you have not disagreed with), it doesn’t matter how complex DNA is, or how many “problems” exist with evolution (also, I’ll point out that the people who spend their lives studying these, looking for problems, view these problems as insignificant). Evolution is not atheism, and disproving evolution does not prove god.

    “My point is not that we must prove the existence of God. Christians have said from the beginning that God has left us proof. It is that we are unable to prove a supernatural being by naturalistic means.”

    Then you don’t have proof, at least not by any traditional meaning of the word.

    “The burden of proof that you require is so filled with bias that we are unable to play the game anymore. So where the burden of proof shifts is not in proving God exists but that theists must follow your unreasonable terms in developing our proof.”

    It’s not bias, it is the definition of proof. The proof you require for your god would be inadequate in every other aspect of life. It is not my bias effecting this discussion, it is yours.

    “In order to meet this burden as an atheist, one must demonstrate that all things that we know to exist can be proven naturalisticlly. If even one thing that we know cannot be proven in this manner than we must be open to other forms of proof.”

    Okay, name one thing that we know exists which cannot have its existence proven scientifically. Also, taking the inverse of your last statement, you have admitted that “If everything we know can be proved scientifically, we need not be open to other forms of proof.” Thus, the burden of proof is on you, to provide an example of something we know exists, but which cannot be shown to exist via science or logic.

    “If you reject any other form of proof, then you must reject knowing anything that cannot be proven through your naturalistic world view.”

    I do. Please provide me with a counter-example.

    “Observation and repeatability are not the only methods by which we prove something. Certainly proving the actions of a being do not fit within this type of proof.”

    Wrong. Proving the actions of a being do depend on observation of the impact of the action and the circumstances around it, just not direct observation of the action happening.

    “No jury would ever expect to observe the crime in action in order to convict. They would look at the evidence left from the crime and determine guilt or innocence based on that.”

    Which is still a form of observation, following the scientific method, to compare the likelihood of innocence vs. guilt of the suspect. Now, what would be the “alternative” form of proof analogous to theists in a courtroom setting.

    “Certainly I can not prove my own existence, but my intimate knowledge of my thought leads me to a fairly good conclusion that I actually do.”

    Again, application of logic and observation, the tenets of science.

    For your second to last paragraph, I have already responded that I will follow the evidence. I like to think most atheists would do the same. Either way, however, this is irrelevant to the truth.

    “Thanks for writing, it is refreshing to have someone who is intelligent to debate with.”

    Thank you, as well. Though my writing style is a bit brisk, and I may come across as snippy at times, I am honestly enjoying this discussion.

    • schooloffish
    • August 1st, 2010

    What does scientifically “sound” mean? Are you saying that supernatural events are not scientifically sound? If so, can you show me where science has dis-proven the possibility of supernatural? It seems to me that a hypothesis is sound until dis-proven. Certainly evolution rests on this. I suspect your proof will be an appeal to naturalism and is circular reasoning – not science.

    I would point out that a) current theories suggest the universe has zero net energy and is, therefore, nothing.

    Come on, certainly you don’t buy that. Regardless of the net zero energy theory, it still contains stuff. Stuff exists correct? I doubt you would say you don’t exist and are “net zero”. So how did that “stuff” come into existence? How did the net zero universe produce matter? Your can extend out the universes as far as you want but you still have the same problem with the creation of stuff. At some point in time stuff was created. Right? The only observable, logical conclusion is that something outside of nature had to create it. It must be an uncreated cause. This certainly doesn’t prove theism but it is more plausible explanation in my mind.

    You base your argument on things that are scientifically sound and (observed) yet you rest your theory on a metaverse? Have you observed this or is this just a philosophical theory? Let’s be honest here, you have a humanistic, naturalistic bias and no evidence or theory that falls outside of these world views will ever be accepted.

    Admit it and we can be friends 🙂

    • Hoovooloo
    • August 2nd, 2010

    Natural is defined by Princeton as “existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world” ( http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=natural ). If we, as humans, can experience it, or sense it, or build a device to measure it, it is by definition observable, and therefore, by definition, natural. Your use of the word supernatural, therefore, means you acknowledge it is impossible to provide evidence for “its” existence. As I have already demonstrated, and you have not been able to disprove, atheism is the null hypothesis. This, coupled with your admission of a total lack of evidence, means that the theistic position is logically unsound. This leaves you with 2 options:

    Retract/clarify your use of the word “supernatural”
    -or-
    Admit your faith has no logical or scientific basis

    Also, it is important to note for a moment you have created the false dichotomy of current scientific theory vs. theism–poking a hole in a scientific theory does not imply god, it only indicates the theory is incomplete. I have mentioned this before (several times), but you seem to have ignored this yet again. To prove god exists, you need to provide evidence of his existence, not just demonstrate problems with existing theories.

    Knowing this, the remainder of you comment provided no argument for theism. However, I will still clarify some errors.

    “Come on, certainly you don’t buy that. Regardless of the net zero energy theory, it still contains stuff. Stuff exists correct? I doubt you would say you don’t exist and are “net zero”.”

    Belief does not indicate truth. Regardless, you seem to have missed the point entirely. Everything is energy, including mass (or “stuff”). This is elegantly demonstrated via nuclear weapons. I am not “net zero”–I never claimed I was. Rather, the cumulative energy stored in my chemical bonds, mass, and other physical quantities is exactly equaled by the gravitational forces generated by my existence. Gravity is a negative energy. Therefore, I came from nothing, and will return to nothing–“Stuff” didn’t “come” from anywhere. What I think you are asking is what caused the separation of positive and negative energy. The point is, we don’t know.

    “It must be an uncreated cause. This certainly doesn’t prove theism but it is more plausible explanation in my mind.”

    “Cause” implies a linear timeline–this is certainly not a guarantee when discussing the beginning of the universe. You are assuming that time is infinite and everlasting, and using this as the basis of your argument for god. You have not proven causality held before the universe began (or, indeed, if the universe can even be said to have a beginning) and thus your argument for god has no basis. Plausibility, especially to someone who has no training in the field, is not a logically valid argument.

    “You base your argument on things that are scientifically sound and (observed) yet you rest your theory on a metaverse? Have you observed this or is this just a philosophical theory?”

    Again, you missed the point. My theory does not rest on the metaverse. The metaverse was posed as a counter to you “first mover” argument. A metaverse is a non-theistic way of the universe beginning. Unless you can provide positive evidence for your god, the beginning of the universe is not evidence for theism (after all, non-theistic causes are possible–that was the point of the metaverse diversion).

    “Let’s be honest here, you have a humanistic, naturalistic bias and no evidence or theory that falls outside of these world views will ever be accepted.”

    If there is evidence, it is by definition naturalistic. Admit it, and we can be friends.

    Here is a simple challenge, that I posed by analogy earlier that you may have missed: provide me with a piece of supernatural evidence.

    • Veritas
    • August 26th, 2012

    It’s been over 2 years since the last comment, but I found this back and forth argument quite interesting, so I felt like commenting. Hoovooloo, you definitely have a naturalistic bias, just like schooloffish has a bias for belief in God. I wonder if you realize this, or if you truly feel that your view is unbiased. You even display your bias in your comments. “If there is evidence, it is by definition naturalistic.” So you want someone to provide you evidence of the supernatural, however if such evidence existed via the scientific method, it would by definition be naturalistic, there by invalidating the claim that it is supernatural. This points directly to your bias that everything must be able to be explained in naturalistic terms. Take the metaverse example. Here is something that you cannot observe, and cannot test, but because it is a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis, it is somehow more acceptable to you than a creator.

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