Sunday, November 02, 2008

Responding to Loftus' argument

Atheist John Loftus has the following argument against Christianity. I don't bring it up because Loftus is any kind of a genius of argumentation, but because we see this same argument in various forms from various atheists. Here is the argument:
If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge. I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible.
(source) I answer:
a) God is perfectly good, he is all knowing, and he is all powerful.
b) God is also perfectly just.
c) There is suffering the world, and there is happiness in the world.
d) The answer to why there is suffering is easy: there is sin and God is just.
e) The more puzzling thing is why there is any happiness in the world.
f) The reason is that God is not only perfectly good and perfectly just, but also merciful.

JL claims: "The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it."

JL doesn't know what "good" is. That's the problem. JL seems to think that the goodness of God is measured by what God does for him! How foolish! God is the creator and we are the creature. We exist for His pleasure, not the other way around. When sin is punished by suffering and death, that is God being good. JL may not like it, but what JL likes is not the standard of good.

JL claims: "So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it."

JL's dichotomy (well, "di-" is not technically correct prefix because he provides more than two options) is false. God is powerful enough to eliminate all suffering and to eliminate all happiness. God is smart enough to know what to do to eliminate either suffering or happiness. The reason for God not eliminating either of these is not an insufficient degree of care. God does care what goes on in the world, and what goes on is precisely what He has decreed.

But again, notice the premise in JL's reasoning: if God does not care to eliminate JL's suffering, God does not care enough. This characterization makes sense only from the backwards viewpoint of anthropocentrism: a man-centered view of the universe.

JL claims: "The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge." As noted above, however, the problem is actually with JL's apparent view that "goodness" is measured by man's standard, not God's standard. JL seems to overlook the possibility that something is wrong with the standards he's using, and instead points a crooked finger at God. Furthermore, since JL overlooks the problem of sin, JL hasn't seen that the real difficulty is not suffering, but happiness.

For more, see the interesting video from Pastor Voddie Baucham that I previously embedded (link).

Let me be clear, there may be some for whom Loftus' internal critique would work. There are some for whom their conception of God is as anthropocentric as Loftus'. I hope, dear readers, that you are not among them. If you are, I would exhort you to obtain a copy of Dr. White's "The Potter's Freedom," and read it. In that book, Dr. White powerfully explains the fact of God's sovereignty. It's available at the Alpha and Omega Ministries bookstore (link) and probably a number of other venues.

-TurretinFan

10 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for the discussion. I have also dealt with your so-called internal critique response here. Maybe you have some further thoughts on the matter?

natamllc said...

TF,

I would hope you would keep doing this. It truly sharpens my ability to discern between good and evil.

I am to much of a sucker at times!

Lotus:

If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation.

[YES LOTUS, GOD IS PERFECT, PERFECTLY GOOD AND CANNOT LEARN. THE ISSUE OF WHY HAS BEEN PERFECTEDLY DEMONSTRATED AND EXPLAINED. THE PROBLEM IS GOD HAS NOT GIVEN YOU THE UNDERSTANDING YET IF AT ALL. IF IT IS "IF AT ALL" IT'S SAD. IF IT IS YET TO HAPPEN, YOU TOO WILL BE GLAD.]



The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it.

[NO, THE REASON IS EQUALLY THE SAME AS ABOVE, GOD IS PERFECTLY GOOD AND GOD AND OBVIOUSLY HE IS NOT OPPOSED TO IT OR IT WOULD NOT BE PERMITTED IN THE CREATION. GOD IS ALL-POWERFUL AND YES, AS HAS BEEN SAID ABOVE IN RESPONSE TO THIS POINT BY TF, GOD IS WELL ABLE TO ELIMINATE IT. I HAVE GOOD NEWS FOR YOU. GOD WILL ELIMINATE IT IN A GOOD AND PERFECT TIME. HE IS DOING IT HIS WAY, NOT YOURS AND NOT WHEN YOU WANT IT DONE. AREN'T YOU GLAD FOR THAT? I AM! THE PROBLEM HERE IS NOT THAT GOD CAN ELIMINATE IT OR DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, IT IS THAT HIS WAY IS DIFFERENT THAN YOUR WAY AND THESE TWO WAYS ARE IN CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER. WANT TO GUESS WHO WILL WIN THE DAY HIS WAY?]

So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it.

[THE SUFFERING IN THIS WORLD IS INDEED INTENSE. I HAVE BEEN TO 11 WAR ZONES, SOME ACTIVE DURING THE VISIT AND THE DESTRUCTION WAS INDEED INTENSE. THE AFTERMATH WAS UGLY, BRUTAL. THERE WERE TWO FORCES WORKING AGAINST EACH OTHER AND IN EACH CASE I AM AWARE OF THE OUTCOME WAS THAT GOOD DID TRIUMPHANT OVER THE EVIL. SADLY THOUGH, THERE WAS INTENSE SUFFERING AS GOOD OVERCAME EVIL. THAT'S REALITY IN THIS CREATION OF GOD'S, WHO DOES CARE AND DID PREVAIL OVER THOSE TEMPORARY EVENTS, HOWEVER SHORT THE FIGHT OR LONG, THEY EXISTED WHILE GOOD WAS OVERCOMING THEM. GOD WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL. YOU MIGHT WANT TO BE APART OF THE PREVAILING SIDE?]


The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.

[AGAIN, I DO NOT SEE IT THE WAY YOU SEE IT ABOUT THE FACTS OF INTENSE SUFFERING IN THIS WORLD, PAST SUFFERINGS, SUFFERINGS NOW AND THE SUFFERING THAT WILL COME UPON THIS WORLD IN THE DAYS AHEAD WHICH ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE WILL BE EVEN MORE INTENSE. I SUGGEST YOU PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE RISE IN INTENSITY OF THE SUFFERINGS TO COME.]

I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible.

[OBVIOUSLY YOU WILL AGREE WITH ME THAT I DISAGREE WITH YOU NO MATTER HOW EMPIRICAL EITHER REFUTATION IS, YOURS OR MINE? I HAVE EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE FOR MY ASSERTION. IS YOURS BY EXPERIENCE OR BY OBSERVATION?]

Turretinfan said...

Dear natamllc,

Thanks for your comments. I realize that you used all caps to differentiate your words from Loftus' words. On the other hand, bear in mind that sometimes people interpret all-caps as shouting. I assume you were not trying to shout.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Loftus,

Thanks for reading. As you may notice the link you provide is the same as the link already provided in your article.

I've reviewed the article, but it doesn't deal with that response in a particularly meaningful way. If one scans far down, one finds a comment like "My particular argument in chapter 12 is not directed at the Calvinistic conception of God, per se. As I’ve already admitted, I dismiss such a Calvinistic conception of God."

And later, you provide the following quotation with approval: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”

That seems to reinforce the point made in my article above, that you simply want to define "good" your way - a way that makes little sense.

I may devote one more post to that second part of the response.

-TurretinFan

GeneMBridges said...

Here! Here! on your response to Mr. Loftus. Loftus doesn't actually provide any material relevant to a Calvinistic view of God...he, and that by his own admission, simply dismisses the Calvinistic conception of God.

An actual internal critique would actually demonstrate the way or ways that Calvinism is either inconsistent or internally contradictory or contradictory to what the Bible teaches. To simply dismiss Reformed theology is no answer to Reformed theology. That's the the biggest problem with John's interaction with Calvinism at this point. He was an Arminian before his defection, and he ever remains an Arminian.

And when he starts defining "good" the way he wants to - and provides no nonarbitrary epistemic warrant in the process, that's not internal critique, it's an external critique.

Like I said @ Tblog...low hanging fruit...

luvvom said...

I can comfortably say, "Amen and job well done in your answer!"

Turretinfan said...

Hi luvvom,

Thanks!

-TurretinFan

natamllc said...

Oh, well, let me express my regret if any reader hereon thought I was "SHOUTING". I have heard that about "ALL CAPS" and I am sorry if it was offensive?

Indeed TF, you got it correct with my intent. Accept my regret and if it caused anyone discomfort, please accept my apology?

I am all learnable, teachable, if there is a better way to make the distinction between one and the other go ahead and give some guidance to me?

Turretinfan said...

NatAmLLC,

Thanks for being so kind!

-TurretinFan

Paul Manata said...

Hi TF,

Good job.

John approvingly quoted:

"“If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”

This sounds like Victor Reppert. When John approvingly quotes something, he should take into account the responses to the claim to make sure he's not quoting somehting ridiculous thereby making himself look ridiculous for agreeing with ridiculosity!

I had responded to Reppert on this score:

What if all humans voted and said that gay marriage was a good.

Now, say God said that it wasn't.

Thus our 'good' would be his 'bad'.

Thus for this argument to work it must add the hidden premise that:

a) and our views of what is right *are really right*.

And on this interpretation, *no Christian* would say that what God says is really right contradicts what is really right!

So, to escape the charge that God's idea of right could be wrong because of, say, cultural relativism (where our "good" could be the caim that "slavery is morally permissible"), Loftus can only mean that our *correct* notion of right can't conflict with God's. But once analyzed, the argument looses all force.

The claim comes from utiliterain John Stural Mill:

"I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go."

And if you know anything about Mill's ethic, this turns out to be absurd. I mean, Mill's utilitarianism allows that we could hang an innocent man so long as it ended, say, a massive riot thereby bringing more pleasure. So, this guy's got a lot of nerve saying that he would not call God good if he could not apply that to his fellow creatures since he would call the men who murdered the innocent man, "good"!

So this position is *absurd*.

Besides that, the *principle* behind it is problematic. Call the Mill quote: Mill's Maxim [MM]. Let's look at other variations:

[MM1] I will call no being 'thinking' who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Does God think just like humans now? Discursively? Reasons through a chain of inference?

How about:

[MM2] I will call no being 'powerful' who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Is that our idea of God? A cosmic muscle man lifting bar bells?

[MM3] I will call no being 'present' who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

But since God is present everywhere, then he is present *here*, but no other "fellow" creature can be present *here* since only I can take up the space I take up.

Loftus continues to show that there's an intellectual challenege of the gospel. Loftus's 'reasoning' should be a school master driving him to Christ. Christ can save him from his intellectual futility.