I don't often comment on other people's blogs simply because I don't have the time to engage in what always seems to turn into prolonged debates, but I still try to browse them from time to time to see what people are saying. Today I came across something that John Loftus recently wrote about a debate he was having with David Wood on the "problem" of suffering, and I thought I'd include it here because it happens to illustrate the point I just made on this blog. If you read my last entry, you'll recall that I pointed out that a classic logical problem made by many atheists is that they insist on arguing from only one arena (i.e., philosophy, etc.) even if their argument is contradicted from evidence in another arena. I found an interesting defense of this position by Mr. Loftus on his blog (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com) as follows:
"To put the matter differently, a theist could say, “I have no clue why God allows evil, but I’m going to believe that he has his reasons anyway,” and he would be no worse off than the atheist when the latter says, “I have no clue how life could have formed on its own, but I’m going to believe it anyway.” Nevertheless, since theists can offer at least some plausible reasons for God to allow suffering, they are on much better ground than atheists."
As I recently said, arguments for the existence of God, are not strictly relevant to our specific debate issue, since I already hypothetically granted you for the purpose of the debate that your God exists. Think about this. The question I was addressing can be accurately phrased like this: Given that your omni-God exists, then why is there intense suffering in this world? And my conclusion is that intense suffering in this world makes the existence of your omni-God implausible (or improbable), regardless of the arguments for the existence of God, which provides for you the Bayesian background factors leading you personally to believe despite the extent of intense suffering in this world.
(A side note here from me: How exactly is Mr. Loftus "granting" that Wood's God exists if he is "concluding" that His existence is improbable? In deductive logic, which Loftus appears to be using, if you assume something to be true in your argument, your conclusion cannot negate that assumption. In other words, how can God's existence be "given", but he still concludes that God does not exist? Essentially Loftus' argument is as follows: (1) God exists. (2) There is too much suffering in the world. Therefore, (3) God does not exist. There are certainly some unspoken sub-premises here, but my point is simply to ask how can (3) possibly be our conclusion when (1) is one of our premises on which our conclusion must be based? In reality, Mr. Loftus did not "grant" anything. Now back to Mr. Loftus' comments)
I was arguing from evil, not from the non-existence of your omni-God hypothesis. Just read Howard-Snyder's book called The Evidential Argument From Evil, to see this. The book does not contain one single argument for the existence of God, either pro or con, except as it relates to the problem of evil itself. I see no chapters in it on the design or cosmological or ontological arguments, for instance. The arguments were strictly dealing with how the omni-God hypothesis relates to the issue of suffering. If that hypothesis is true, then is this the kind of world we should expect? The debate was (and is) over whether the evidential argument from evil makes the omni-God hypothesis implausible (or improbable) on its own terms.
This "logic" truly boggles me. Please understand I do not mean to be "calling out" Mr. Loftus on this, because he is not the only one who does it. He just happens to be the example I most recently came across. Mr. Loftus is encouraging us, when examining suffering, to completely ignore any of the other evidence for God and just look at the "problem" of suffering. This is the same logical error that atheists make in the so-called "Euthyphro dilemma" (see my article on that topic on the Ten Minas website). They limit the "playing field", limiting the theist's options, then claim victory when the theist doesn't produce what they deem to be sufficient evidence to refute them.
As regards suffering, the theist looks at the overwhelming evidence for God's existence that comes from elsewhere and recognizes that if we know God exists based upon the other evidence, then there must be an explanation for suffering (there is also an article on suffering on the Ten Minas web site that proposes some of these explanations). We cannot pick and choose what evidence we want to examine and that which we want to ignore. The evidence is what it is. But Mr. Loftus is encouraging us to do just that. You see, he wants to conclude, from all the suffering in the world, that God does not exist. You can point out to him over and over again all the other overwhelming evidence that God exists, but instead of re-examining his position on suffering, he simply wants to ignore that evidence entirely, claiming it has no role in any discussion of suffering. Of course it does! You see, nothing about suffering in and of itself necessarily means God does not exist, nor does it even necessarily mean a loving God does not exist (as I point out in the article, there may very well be some "loving" reasons for allowing suffering). Even the atheist must concede, from a logical standpoint, that it is at least THEORETICALLY possible for a loving reason for suffering to exist, even if we cannot come up with one at the moment. So if evidence from other arenas overwhelmingly indicates that God does exist, you cannot simply shut your eyes to it. Essentially, this type of attitude is trying to make the evidence fit your conclusion. You have to look at ALL the evidence. We can only draw accurate conclusions if we look at the big picture.
In order to better illustrate my point, allow me to propose a fictional, hypothetical discussion:
Atheist: I don't think God exists because of all the suffering in the world.
Theist: But look at the Big Bang and the necessity for some kind of causal entity for the universe.
Atheist: That's irrelevant. There's simply too much suffering in the world.
Theist: But look at all the fine tuning of the universe.
Theist: How about the impossibility of objective morality without God?
Atheist: Again, that doesn't matter. There's too much suffering.
Theist: Well then, how do you explain all this evidence for God's existence? How can you conclude that there is no God simply based on suffering without even looking at all this other evidence?
Atheist: I don't need to. There's too much suffering.
Now please don't misunderstand me. I do not claim that atheists do not present counterarguments to these other issues. Of course they do. My point is simply that it is a completely illogical argument technique to try to limit the playing field and claim that other evidence for God's existence is irrelevant to the suffering question. This is in essence putting blinders on. If we have other evidence that is sufficient to conclude that God exists, then we cannot automatically conclude that God does not exist based upon suffering alone. To do so would lead to a logical contradiction: one set of evidence saying God does exist while another saying He does not. Anyone who understands the law of non-contradiction would know that both cannot be true at the same time. In order to advance a consistent position, the athiest should claim that the best the theist can do is to create uncertainty as to God's existence. In other words, they should say, "But even if we assume that all your other evidence tends to indicate God's existence, suffering tends to show otherwise, so we simply cannot draw any conclusions" (a conclusion which, of course, I disagree with because I believe there are plenty of explanations for suffering, but at least this would open the entire playing field up for debate instead of arbitrarily trying to limit the realm of discussion). Instead of doing this, though, too many atheists try to limit the discussion to one particular area, and an area in which they believe they will "win", so that they can claim victory even though all of the evidence has not been examined.
In order to draw an accurate conclusion you must examine ALL the evidence. Otherwise you run the risk of coming to an incorrect conclusion because you've only looked at one small part of the overall picture. No matter which side of the issue you fall on, I hope you will give a fair hearing to all the evidence, and not try to limit yourself in any way.