The Problem of Evil

November 13, 2009 by
Filed under: The Problem Of Evil 

The Problem of Evil
By August Berkshire
(This essay is available as a tri-fold PDF pamphlet for easy printing)

If a god exists who is all-powerful and all-loving, then why is there evil in the world?  For the sake of this argument, let’s concede that the harm that humans do is a misuse of our free will, for which a god cannot be blamed.  That still leaves us with the natural evils of genetic birth defects, genetic and acquired diseases, predators, and natural disasters.

These things seem like wanton cruelty on the part of this god.  Without them, we could still be left to struggle with good and evil in terms of moral dilemmas and human actions, and be judged accordingly.

Here are 16 unconvincing explanations religious people give in an attempt to reconcile the existence of natural evil with their belief in the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving god.

 

(1) Human ancestors are to blame for a “fallen” world.
Natural evil did not exist until long-dead ancestors, such as “Adam and Eve,” transgressed against a god.

But sinning against a god cannot, in itself, create natural evil.  (For example, exactly how does human disobedience create a hurricane or a disease?)  Rather, the god in question must intervene to create natural evil as a punishment, and is therefore ultimately responsible for it.

Yet it is unjust to punish future generations for something they had no control over. What did an innocent baby ever do to deserve a birth defect?  What kind of justice punishes children for the sins of their long-dead ancestors?

Should we all put ourselves in prison immediately simply because each of us has, somewhere in our ancestry, a distant relative who committed murder?  If not, then human justice is superior to God’s justice.

Also, how does this explain why other animals suffer?  Did their ancestors “sin” too?

 

(2) The devil did it.
God isn’t really responsible for evil in the world, a devil is.

But didn’t God create this devil in the first place?  And isn’t God supposed to be all-powerful?  Can’t he stop this devil?

(3) Unknown greater good.
God must commit or allow some evil to exist in order to accomplish an unknown greater good.

But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power?  Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than by torturing innocent people?

(4) Evil is necessary for free will.
Without evil we would have no free will and we would be “robots.”

But what do birth defects, disease, and natural disasters have to do with free will?  Do sick people have more free will than healthy people?

God has supposedly created a heaven where there are no diseases or disasters.  Are the people in heaven robots?

(5) God is testing our faith.
Evil is God’s way of testing our faith, like Job was tested in the Old Testament.

If this is true, what sense does it make to impose a “loyalty test” on an infant who dies from disease or natural disaster?

(6) Evil is needed to appreciate the good.
Without the contrast of evil we wouldn’t appreciate what’s good.

But couldn’t a god just give us an appreciation of what’s good?  Why should we have to be tortured to appreciate the good?

Wouldn’t the good and evil of human actions suffice to teach us this lesson in contrast?

(7) Evil is necessary for compassion.
We are born as self-centered people and evil is necessary for us to learn compassion.

But if a god wanted us to be compassionate, why didn’t he just make us that way?  Why this sadistic scheme of torturing innocent babies to instill compassion in their parents?  What about suffering and death that occurs where there are no witnesses?

(8) Suffering builds character.
Humans are imperfect/fallen/sinful beings and suffering helps build character.

While building character may sometimes require effort – such as helping others, studying, and sportsmanship – none of these things tend to make us suffer.

And what kind of character is a baby supposed to be developing, who is born with a birth defect so severe that she will only live a few days?

(9) Evil is really God’s love.
What we perceive as “evil” is really an example of “God’s love.”

However, this is a definition of love that we cannot comprehend because it is exactly the opposite of what we define love to be.  Therefore, we can’t know that “God’s love” is really love – we have to take someone’s unconvincing word for it.

If disease is an example of God’s love, shouldn’t we all try to get as sick as possible?  Are doctors violating “God’s will” when they try to cure disease?

(10) Evil brings us closer to God.
Evil is justified because suffering makes us turn to God for comfort.

But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power?  Couldn’t he think of a better way to entice us without torturing us first?  How much gratitude, for example, should we show to a doctor for curing us from a disease he inflicted upon us in the first place?

(11) Evil doesn’t last very long.
Any misery that occurs to us on Earth is brief compared to an eternity in a wonderful heaven.

Any amount of evil is still evil and is contrary to the definition of “all-loving.”

(12) The Creator is always justified.
God is morally justified in tormenting people because he created them.

But this confuses the power to torture someone with the right to torture someone.

Do the parents who create a child have a right to torture that child?  Does might make right?

(13) Natural evil is necessary as a warning of hell.
Humans need natural evil to warn them against “sinning” that will lead to even worse suffering in an afterlife.

Don’t human-caused evils and accidents cause sufficient suffering to act as a warning?

(14) Without evil, life would be boring.
Humans like a sense of adventure and life wouldn’t be as interesting without the challenge of evil.

There is a difference between a welcome challenge and an unwelcome challenge.

People who enjoy a sense of adventure are free to choose which risks they wish to take.  If a reporter deliberately approaches a hurricane, he has only himself or herself to blame for any negative consequences.  But what about the people in the path of the hurricane who don’t wish to experience it?

 

(15) Evil is necessary to prove God’s existence.
The existence of evil proves the existence of God because without a God-given sense of good and bad we would not be able to identify some things as evil in the first place.

But can’t an all-powerful and all-loving god come up with a better way to prove his existence other than by torturing us?  Why not just reveal himself?

Don’t we define good and bad, regarding natural evil, simply by what is demonstrably harmful to us?  Why would this lead to god belief?

(16) God had to create Earth this way.
Natural disasters and diseases are an unfortunate necessity.  A planet without natural disasters and diseases could not operate in a way that would support human life.

But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power?  Since God was creating humans from scratch, couldn’t he create us so that we could survive on a planet that lacked natural evil?

 

Conclusion
None of these explanations is sufficient to justify the existence of natural evil.  Hospitals are monuments to God’s incompetence, indifference, or cruelty.

Additional comments

 

  • If you had the knowledge and power of a god, would you have created birth defects, disease, and natural disasters?  If not, then you are nicer than the god you believe in.  This god should be praying to you for moral advice, rather than the other way around.
  • Would you take a syringe full of malaria and inject it into someone you love?  Yet that’s exactly what God does to people he claims to love, using a mosquito as a syringe.
  • We humans spend a lot of time mopping up after God’s mistakes.  Some say that God works through us.  But the reason we have to do “the Lord’s work” is because “the Lord” isn’t doing it himself.  And if we’re doing the work, shouldn’t we take the credit?
  • Yes, many religious people do kind acts of charity.  But why?  Too often the answer seems to fall into one of three categories, which turn out not to be altruistic at all:
    1) To use the recipient of aid as a pawn to bribe the helper’s way into heaven or avoid hell (or to achieve a higher reincarnation).
    2) To use kindness to convert more people to the helper’s religion, because religions cannot be sustained by evidence and thus need as many like-minded people as possible to prop them up and quash self-doubt.
    3) To attempt to maintain the credibility of their religion by covering up the embarrassingly poor job done by their god, by claiming they are agents of God.
  • For those religious people who are kind for the sake of kindness, without reference to a god, that’s exactly what secular humanism is.
  • Most religious people claim that a god cannot be blamed for the evil that humans commit.  Even so, if a person believes the Bible is true, then it begs the question as to why the Biblical god rescued the Jews from Pharaoh but failed to rescue the Jews from Hitler.

Bible Quotes

 

“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”   (Isaiah 45:7)

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”   (Lamentations 3:38)

“When disaster comes to a city, has the Lord not caused it?”   (Amos 3:6)

Qur’an Quote

 

“Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak [Allah] from the evil of that which He created…”   (Surah 113:1-2)

Atheist Quote

 

“I’m an atheist, and that’s it.  I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.”  (actress Katharine Hepburn, interview in the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, October 1991, p. 215.)

© 2005-2010 August Berkshire

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Comments

53 Comments on The Problem of Evil

    [...] PostsRelated posts:The Problem of Evil: The Top 15 Excuses Religious People Give for the Horrible Behavior of their GodQuotes by August BerkshireThe Six C’s of AtheismMost Recent PostsIntelligent Design’s [...]

  1. Jackal on Tue, 17th Nov 2009 5:23 pm
  2. Just about every theodicy can be turned around to argue that good in the world is not proof against an all evil creator god. See Dr. Stephen Law’s God of Eth.

  3. Gort on Tue, 17th Nov 2009 8:16 pm
  4. Actually, excuse 15, as worded, wouldn’t work for Christianity/Juadaism because according to the bible, the sense of right and wrong was not god given but was the result of eating from the forbidden tree.

  5. Dandi144 on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 7:04 am
  6. Wow, August. I love the way you fling the word “evil” about. Since “evil” implies agency, you are in effect using the existence of a supernatural power to disprove the existence of God. How’s that again??? I’m not saying that you aren’t starting your approach to the issue from a good perspective; only that you’re being incredibly sloppy about it.

  7. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 9:23 am
  8. Yes, I had heard about “The Problem of Good” before but had not seen it explained so well. Thanks for the link to the God of Eth; I recommend it to others.

  9. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 9:31 am
  10. As the subtitle to the essay states, these are responses I have heard from religious people. I do not evaluate their theological correctness. However, regarding your observation, I would ask: Who set up the conditions of the Garden of Eden? Who made it so that, upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve would come to recognize good and evil? Wasn’t it God? If God is all-knowing, he would know what was going to happen in regard to the scenario he set up. So our sense of good and evil would be God-given, just not directly but by way of vehicles he set in motion.

  11. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 9:56 am
  12. I think I see your point, that evil implies intent, and thus agency. So, if the wind blows a boulder down on someone, we call it “bad” but not “evil.” So I think you’re saying I should have titled my essay “The Problem of Bad.” But I don’t have a problem with bad. I expect bad things to happen in a godless word. But what I don’t expect from a world ruled over by a god that is all-powerful and all-loving is natural bad things (as opposed to human-caused bad things) to happen.

    This god either commits these bad things directly or created the conditions for them to happen. Either way, that is intent and it is proper to call it evil and not merely bad. So what I’m saying is that this is a problem of evil that religious people have to deal with. In fact, they have created an area of apologetics called Theodicy to address it. And what I’m claiming is that the “excuses” they have come up with don’t solve the problem.

    If God is not all-powerful, then maybe no one is responsible for natural evil and it becomes the problem of bad. However, if God is all-powerful and can stop natural evil and he doesn’t, and we can’t come up with a good reason (“excuse”) for him not stopping it, then that means he is not all-loving. That would make him, to some extent, evil. Either way, what I’m saying is that to claim God is all-powerful and all-loving contradicts our observations and our reasoning.

  13. 1minion on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 10:46 am
  14. Well, I think it’s a nice list and I may wind up printing a pamphlet copy for the next argument I wind up with. Play Apologist Bingo with it or something…

    [...] Berkshire provides a handy list of the The Top 15 Excuses Religious People Give for the Horrible Behavior of their God, and why each one is a load of dingo’s [...]

  15. STEPHEN WALLIS on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 11:09 am
  16. life is but a test self will or Gods truth heaven or hell i for one am glad Jesus chose me i’ve seen miracles and i am blessed beyond my dreams will he choose you? God loves all his creation it is not his will that any should perish but God only loves his chosen ones unconditionally that is for those who choose the lies of this world there is a very real hell awaiting so what can you do to be chosen? seek and you shall find ask or knock and the door will be opened to you if you can believe anything is possible Jesus loves you and came to set you free

  17. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 11:15 am
  18. I believe I address your response in point number six of my essay:
    (6) Evil is really God’s love.
    What we perceive as “evil” is really an example of “God’s love.”
    However, this is a definition of love that we cannot comprehend because it is exactly the opposite of what we define love to be. Therefore, we can’t know that “God’s love” is really love – we have to take someone’s unconvincing word for it.
    If disease is an example of God’s love, shouldn’t we all try to get as sick as possible? Are doctors violating “God’s will” when they try to cure disease?

  19. Beloved Spear on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 12:35 pm
  20. You forgot the “human beings aren’t the center of the universe” argument.

    Gotta include/rebut that one.

  21. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 12:51 pm
  22. In my PowerPoint presentation on the subject I have more material, which unfortunately doesn’t fit on this tri-fold pamphlet. I do address this issue, in the introductory part of that PowerPoint presentation, by assuming that God loves humans above any other material creation. However, I have never heard a religious person use this as an explanation for evil; they all seem to assume that humans are at the top of God’s all-loving list. I’ll give it some thought as to how I can add it to the pamphlet. Thanks for the suggestion.

  23. Kaa on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 2:05 pm
  24. Regarding comment #10: Why is it that the complete inability to use punctuation or capitalization seems to go hand-in-hand with religious zeal? Just curious….

  25. Dandi144 on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 2:38 pm
  26. Aquinas’s formula, yes? “If one of two contraries be infinite, the other is totally destroyed. But ‘God’ means infinite goodness. Therefore if God exists, no evil should be discoverable in the world. But there is evil. Therefore God does not exist.”"

  27. abadmin on Wed, 18th Nov 2009 6:16 pm
  28. Yes, the more I started thinking about it in these past few hours, the more I realized, as you say, that I should not have to make reference to a particular species (human). So, I will leave the essay as is.

    [...] The Top 15 Excuses Religious People Give for the Horrible Behavior of their God; [...]

  29. Kevin on Fri, 20th Nov 2009 3:52 pm
  30. I’ve never seen all those excuses listed together in that way, and I like the way you’ve done it. The fallacy in each case is immediately clear, but when arguing with people who believe these things, I have always found it sufficient to say only that first, god must be both good and evil if all things have their origin in god, and second, in any case evil is obviously a human judgement and not an objectively existing phenomenon, etc etc, this is quite adequate to stump them.
    Lastly, as I have said so many times (not here until now) it is obvious such believers are incapable of fully rational thought and we should class them appropriately as having special educational needs.

  31. abadmin on Fri, 20th Nov 2009 6:12 pm
  32. You’re right that “god must be both good and evil if all things have their origin in god” and I would say my point about “The Devil Did It” addresses that to some degree.

  33. Lousy Canuck » RCimT: This Week, Without Gods on Sun, 22nd Nov 2009 1:05 pm
  34. [...] Berkshire put together another interesting bit of debating-prep material, on the 15 most common excuses used in the “problem of evil” line of argumentation. Well worth a [...]

  35. Dr.M.A.Jones on Tue, 24th Nov 2009 8:23 pm
  36. Reporting:
    God creates male and female.They both have their own will.They are in charge of the earth or everything.They have deathless bodies and perfect health.They decided to disobey God after He told them ‘dying you will eventually die’(Hebrew)if you leave my power and life and go your own way, thus losing living forever as to their bodies (science tells us the body is capable of living forever-there are many postulates by scientists that say why we age and die) with perfect energy and health.
    So all wars,etc., come from man. The enrgy field and everything was marred and changed even the earth pole shift. Man is susceptable to the vagaries of weather and a legion of miseries. But many can and do lead a good life.There is still much beauty around the world.
    God warned them constantly (Heb.) not to leave Him and his power,etc.or negative things would happen. Man did it.-not God. He told them it would distrub the whole energy field.
    Much of the birth defects,diseases,etc,.are from ignorance of sound nutrition,etc. Much research has shown this fact. Many back problems are caused by incorrect posture,falls,and can be corrected. Mine was! There are many healthy people in this world. I am one of them. I don’t eat junk and excecise.
    Accidents are caused by man. Crime is caused by man.
    Why fight it ? Crying and complaining against a God,etc,won’t change anything. One becomes a whiner. Death is a fact. God has provided Christ to save and at His timing the earth and all that is will be made new,including redemed man .
    Cry,bellyache,bemoan God and believers,etc., and see if that changes your lot. It won’t!
    Life is vert short. It was just yesterday it seems I was going to school,etc.,but now i am 65. I am excited about the future. I had an amazing ‘conversion experience’ when I was 19 and that perfect peace has be left me. It is great!!!the hollowness is now gone.
    I understandas I was one of the skeptics.I used to laugh at kids that brought a bible to school and studied it. I did not accept or believe and had all the arguments down pat. I fully understand. But,we have a will and we decide.We can face death anyway we wish and believe any way we wish. I defend your right to say and believe as you wsih!

  37. abadmin on Tue, 24th Nov 2009 9:15 pm
  38. As I say at the beginning of the essay, I do not hold a god accountable for the evil humans do to each other. I am addressing those many natural evils (diseases, birth defects, natural disasters) where human free will is not involved. Death itself is not evil if it is painless and you are guaranteed to go to a heaven. But suffering IS evil unless one can demonstrate a greater could that comes from it that could not have been achieved in a less painful way. So, if a god couldn’t figure out or implement a less painful way in which to achieve his mysterious goals, then he is either not all-knowing or not all-powerful.

  39. Mark on Mon, 30th Nov 2009 1:22 pm
  40. How can you speak of evil without a bases for it?
    What bases is there for the claim that “might does not make right?
    Why cannot God create evil, use it for a greater good and remain perfect according to His own nature?
    Why should Katherine Hepburn be kind to anyone?

  41. abadmin on Mon, 30th Nov 2009 2:51 pm
  42. Evil is that which causes intentional harm or suffering without any greater redeeming value. Now, if there is no god, then diseases, natural disasters, and birth defects, are not evil as there is no intention behind them; they are merely bad. But if an all-powerful god created the universe and the natural laws, that means he is responsible for these things. That makes them intentional and thus evil – or perhaps it is god that is evil, not the phenomena. In any case, this has historically been called “The Problem of Evil” and the branch of apologetics that tries to justify god’s behavior is called theodicy.

    I address the “greater good” argument in Excuse #1. In Excuse #12 I ask “Does might make right?” If your answer is Yes, that means anyone stronger than you has the right to beat you up.

    Why should atheists be kind to anyone? Because we are human and humans evolved as social animals where cooperation was rewarded more often than not, especially as a long-term survival strategy.

  43. Dandi144 on Mon, 7th Dec 2009 10:23 pm
  44. Curious the way you have addressed the “greater good” argument: “Until this “greater good” is revealed to us, we are not obliged to accept this argument.”

    It seems very strange to me that you would proffer a logical argument based on theistic principles to refute theism, and yet admit to consideration only some theistic principles; e.g., dismissing a common theme of theism (greater good, afterlife, heaven – call it what you will) out of hand.

    Argument by dismissal is a logical fallacy.

  45. Dandi144 on Thu, 10th Dec 2009 5:09 pm
  46. August, I’m sure you pride yourself on being a rational and logical person. Your arguments, however, fall far short of logical, in the traditional sense of the word. You appear to be attempting to apply deductive reasoning to this problem. Unfortunately your “reasoning” is both turgid and illogical. Apparently one can be a public speaker and have no grasp of rhetoric or logic. To illustrate, your first argument is be a good place to start.

    First of all, you are basing your argument on terms which you never define, starting with the most fundamental ones: “evil” and “good”. I had already questioned your use of the word “evil” previously; what is your definition? (Frankly, the development of any argument of this nature is much more formidable when presented as “the problem of suffering”, as opposed to “the problem of evil”).

    Second, what exactly are your premises? Would you please define them – it’s impossible to judge the validity of an argument if we don’t know where you are starting from, what you are assuming to be true (even if only for the sake of argument): in short, what are your axioms? I think – but do not know – that you are assuming at least two points, for the sake of the argument: God is all-powerful, God is all-loving, and There is evil in the world. I’m not sure that there are not others. And, not to belabor the point, but see #1 above . . .

    Third, your arguments are rife with illogic. I am using that term in a very specific sense, to denote logical fallacies (both formal and informal) incorporated into your arguments. In fact, assuming “God is all-powerful” is, in fact, an axiom (see #2 above), you demonstrate an error in formal logic literally two words into the argument for your first point! As another example, more along the lines of informal logic, God “torturing innocent people” may be a valid reflection of your opinions or feelings, but it is considered a dysphemism in the context of a logical argument and therefore contributes nothing to the argument (indeed, as bad nondeductive argumentation, it weakens it). I’ve already referred above to your use of argument by dismissal (technical term), in dismissing “greater good”.

  47. abadmin on Sat, 12th Dec 2009 6:02 pm
  48. Thanks for the comment. You’re right that there is some confusion going on here. Am I trying to refute the excuse or am I merely saying it is not compelling? Either tactic is valid to maintain the atheist position that there is insufficient evidence or reason for belief. My first comment, “But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power? Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than by torturing innocent people?” would fall into the category of refutation. My second comment, “Until this “greater good” is revealed to us, we are not obliged to accept this argument.” would fall into the category of insufficient evidence.

    My earlier version of this essay did not include the latter statement. I debated about including it this time, because it’s not as strong as the argument that precedes it and, in the minds of some, may let their god off the hook. I’ll think about it some more and may drop it in the next version of this essay.

  49. abadmin on Sat, 12th Dec 2009 6:10 pm
  50. Part of the problem is that I want this essay to fit on a trifold pamphlet. I am therefore limited as to how many words I can use and still have the text be reasonably easy to read (as far as size of font). I will try to clarify things even more in the next version.

  51. Dandi144 on Sat, 12th Dec 2009 9:06 pm
  52. What in the world are you trying to do? If you are relying on insufficient evidence as your argument, why are you positing a divine being who is “who is all-powerful and all-loving”. Why is there any more or less evidence for that than there is for the existence of an afterlife, for instance?

    If you are not arguing insufficient evidence, if you are in fact attempting to demonstrate logical inconsistencies in a theistic – specifically Christian – world view, then do so. But if that is your line of attack, as it appears to be, you are committing gross and blatant errors in your logic.

    To your last point, if speaking concisely means you can’t speak accurately, don’t speak.

  53. abadmin on Sat, 12th Dec 2009 9:55 pm
  54. Evidently you overlooked the first word of my essay: “If.” The sentence reads: “If a god exists who is all-powerful and all-loving…” Now, if a god doesn’t exist, or the god that exists isn’t all-powerful and all-loving, then no problem. As I conclude: “God has run out of excuses. He is either incompetent, indifferent, or cruel. Another way to reconcile the facts is to conclude that an all-powerful, all-loving god doesn’t exist.”

    The Christian god is described as “all-powerful and all-loving,” but this would apply to any god so-described.

  55. Dandi144 on Sat, 12th Dec 2009 10:25 pm
  56. Yes, I did see your “If”. Carrying your last statement to its logical conclusion:
    If God does not exist, you have no problem
    If God is not all-loving, you have not problem.
    If God is not omnipotent, you have not problem.

    However – carrying your argument forward – If God exists and is omnipotent and all loving, you have a problem.

    Once again, do you simply want to argue insufficient evidence and avoid the contention that you have set up (it makes for a marvelously compact trifold!), or do you want to use that contention to develop an argument based on incompatible properties?

    “As I conclude: ‘God has run out of excuses. He is either incompetent, indifferent, or cruel.’ ” It would be good if there were some sort of logical structure that lead to that conclusion. I cannot find one in your first premise; I’m trying to take them in sequence, but am still uncertain of how your are proceeding with even that first one.

  57. Dandi144 on Wed, 16th Dec 2009 9:33 pm
  58. Hey, I just glanced briefly at your 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God. I notice that you refer to four or five of them as “God of the gaps” arguments. I’m sure you are aware that most formally trained theologians have tended to dismiss that argument, based on reasoning put forth by Thomas Aquinas 700 years ago. Are all of them that solid? I’ll have to check them out when I get some time . . .

  59. Dandi144 on Tue, 22nd Dec 2009 7:54 am
  60. Part 1

    My goal is to provide an overall assessment of August Berkshire’s arguments, contained on this page. While it is very enticing to attempt to examine each individual contention, one at a time, it would simply be inefficient, since the entire line of argument appears to be faulty. So a top-down approach may be more reasonable. I am breaking this response into sections, simply for the sake of logistics.
    To start, I am making the supposition that August is engaging in a type of argument called “reductio ad absurdum”. This form is used to establish a contention (e.g., “God does not exist”) by asserting its opposite (“God does exist”) and then deriving one or more absurdities from that assertion.
    This form of argument is extremely important for establishing a logical, rational argument for the non-existence of God; one that is not based on a simple matter of preference or opinion (“I don’t/can’t/won’t believe in God”). One reason for this is that, since the God that August posits in his foundational assumptions – taken from Abrahamic belief traditions – transcends our understanding of the universe, it is not obvious what kind of scientific proof could be brought to bear to prove his non-existence. Proof of his non-existence (or existence for that matter) is not a normal scientific question, answerable by evidentiary proof. Short of essaying a negative existential proposition – proving that something does not exist – reductio ad absurdum is arguably the best possibility for proving the non-existence of God. And, reductio is a form of argument that is both valid and useful, and has a long history in both mathematics and philosophy.

    Part 2 will follow.

  61. abadmin on Tue, 22nd Dec 2009 3:01 pm
  62. You’re right: since the typical description of God is one we can’t physically examine (invisible, undetectable, outside of time and space, etc.) then we can’t disprove the existence of such a god. However, if a particular description of a god would lead to certain consequences, and we observe opposite, contradictory, consequences, then our premise (our description of a god) is faulty and that type of god doesn’t exist.

  63. Dandi144 on Wed, 23rd Dec 2009 4:25 pm
  64. Like any argument, reductio ad absurdum argues a conclusion from one or more premises. The intent is to prove one or more of the premises are false by presenting a valid argument that leads to a contradiction, an obviously false conclusion. However, because there are three components to the reduction, several things can lead to the same end result:
    1. The initial premise set is in error
    2. The argument contains a logical fallacy and is invalid
    3. The conclusion, though true, is incorrectly dismissed as untrue

    Ideally, the reductio ad absurdum is meant to achieve the first of these; meaning, a logically valid argument is presented that leads to a conclusion that is patently and admittedly false. However, there are at least two other obvious paths to the same end, both of which leave the original premise set untested.

  65. Dandi144 on Sat, 26th Dec 2009 1:11 pm
  66. But, I am not claiming only two methods of arguing to an incorrect conclusion; only two obvious ones. The third fault has to do with the validity of the original premise set: a contradiction can fail to reveal inconsistencies in assumptions or an incomplete assumption set, even if the argument is valid and leads to the desired result.
    Using your first point as just one example: One would not rationally posit the following:
    Cutting people with a knife is evil.
    Surgeons cut people with a knife.
    Therefore surgeons are evil.

    The fallacy of the above is that surgeons perform the knife-work with another end in mind: to accomplish some good that outweighs the temporary pain they cause. There is a missing premise that renders the argument invalid.

    Does this overarching good exist in the case of God? Yes. While the “unknown greater good” argument accepts two fundamental Christian beliefs about God (omnipotence and benevolence), it summarily dismisses a third: the afterlife, presumed to be an eternal state. If God’s “greater good” does, in fact, include an eternal component, it would be reasonable to balance temporary suffering against the achievement of that permanent greater good.

  67. abadmin on Sun, 27th Dec 2009 6:01 pm
  68. One thing that I left out of my essay, due to space considerations, but which I include in my personal presentation, is the following: If there are two means of achieving something that is admittedly a greater good, and one method involves less suffering than the other, then there is some degree of evil in choosing the method that causes more suffering if you could just as easily have chosen the method that causes less suffering. For example, if you have a child who needs a tooth filled (greater good), it’s worth the suffering the child may endure. However, if you have a choice between using novocaine to lessen the pain and not using it, and you don’t use it, then you are evil to some degree.

    Now let’s apply this to god. Let’s suppose he has some secret special plan for us (greater good) that he is currently bringing to fruition through our suffering. Doesn’t it limit his power and knowledge to say that he can’t achieve the same mysterious ends without our suffering? So, if there is a choice between “greater good with suffering” and “greater good without suffering,” then god is somewhat evil for not choosing the latter.

  69. Dandi144 on Mon, 28th Dec 2009 11:13 pm
  70. You are assuming that suffering is the chosen vehicle of God to implement his greater good.

    Suffering exists. A greater good exists.

    Why do you assume a causal relationship between the two? Correlation does not imply causation, does it? If you wish to support that point, then do so, but the burden is upon you to prove it. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc is no argument to a valid conclusion by any rules of logic.

  71. abadmin on Tue, 29th Dec 2009 10:16 am
  72. I am not the one making that assumption, the religious apologist is.

    Premise: If an all-powerful, all-loving god exists, then evil should not exist unless we can come up with a plausible explanation.

    Observation: Evil exists.

    Possible plausible explanation, put forward by religious apologist: Evil is justified by an unknown greater good.

    Examination of that possible, plausible explanation: Unconvincing, because it limits God’s power, which is a violation of the premise.

  73. Dandi144 on Tue, 29th Dec 2009 11:12 am
  74. Please give me the source of that assumption, because it runs counter to the last 1,600 years of Christian theology.

    Premise: If an all-powerful, all-loving god exists, then evil should not exist unless we can come up with a plausible explanation.

    Observation: Evil exists.
    Observation: Free will exists.

    Argument: If free will exists, it is a necessary corollary that the possibility of sin exists. If the possibility of sin exists, then the possibility of evil exists. There is therefore no contradiction.

  75. abadmin on Tue, 29th Dec 2009 12:02 pm
  76. Many people claim that god is both all-loving and all-powerful. So I am examining that premise to see if it holds water in light of the existence of evil, in order to try to falsify the premise. If I am successful, it would not preclude the existence of other types of gods, such as a god that is all-loving but not all-powerful.

    In another one of my points (#7), I ask how free will applies to natural evil. Check out that point and address your rebuttal to that.

  77. Dandi144 on Tue, 29th Dec 2009 6:20 pm
  78. I am not contesting your all-powerful/all-loving assumption (although I’d want some explicit definition of those terms before undertaking a serious discussion). My specific exception is to your unproven and unsubstantiated contention that God has specifically created suffering as the best tool for achieving his ends. Again, what is your source? “Many people” is. if you’ll excuse me, a bit vague.

    And, before we go any further, what IS your definition of omnipotence, as used in the theological sense?

  79. Dandi144 on Thu, 31st Dec 2009 8:39 am
  80. I’ll need to get back to you on #7. First reaction is that it is the absolute inverse of (Christian) theology. You state, “Without evil we would have no free will…”. In reality the proper formulation is, “Without free will there would be no possibility of evil. . .”. The implications of your misstatement are interesting; suffice to say, it’s usually not a good start to an argument to reverse cause and effect!

  81. Ric on Sun, 3rd Jan 2010 4:53 am
  82. You’re evading. AB is quite clearly not referring to evil acts of human agency, such as when a person draws a gun and kills another person with it. He’s referring to natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes and the suffering they cause for human beings. Now, I don’t think you or anyone else here is going to seriously argue that these occurrences are caused mainly by humans. For example, in the case of hurricanes, it may be said that human actions have increased the frequency and strength of hurricanes (if you believe in the anthropomorphic global warming theory) but even then humans are not solely responsible.

    In the Christian understanding of God, He created all of nature and the physical laws it runs by. Natural disasters occur. They kill people. By definition, natural disasters are part of nature, which God created. So why would He create something that kills people?

    Please address that issue.

  83. dandi1144 on Sun, 3rd Jan 2010 8:41 pm
  84. Again, one hinge point is the definition of omnipotent. I’ve already commented – twice – on the fact that August’s arguments are contingent on a proper definition fof terms, including “evil”, and “all-loving”, in addition to “omnipotent” (i.e., “all-powerful”). I am far from evading the issue – what I am specifically trying to do is to DEFINE the issue so that we are not having a discussion at cross-purposes.

    Please address THAT issue. Or, if you feel strongly that having a common set of definitions is evasive, please explain exactly why that is so.

  85. abadmin on Sun, 3rd Jan 2010 9:04 pm
  86. Evil: That which causes foreseeable harm or suffering with no redeeming excuse.
    All-loving: Feeling and expressing the greatest amount of love possible towards all of creation.
    All-powerful: Capable of doing anything it is logically possible to do.

    You have not addressed the issue of natural evil.

  87. ROn08 on Tue, 5th Jan 2010 8:29 am
  88. If you’ve just been a philo major. then everything wud’ve been clear

  89. abadmin on Tue, 5th Jan 2010 9:41 am
  90. Who is this comment addressed to and could you explain it a bit more? Thanks.

  91. Dandi144 on Tue, 5th Jan 2010 10:32 pm
  92. Evil is not a proactive agency and therefore cannot cause harm or suffering, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. To believe otherwise, we’d call ourselves Zoroastrians, not Christians.
    You’re defining “All-loving” by using the word “love”, which is circular. Also, it’s a bit too anthropomorphic; I’d suggest “all-good” as an alternative. It’s more inclusive and I don’t think your arguments suffer from its use.
    “All-powerful” is a bit too expansive. As you state, it is not a denial of divine perfection that he cannot create a meaningless contradiction, like a three-sided square. But, additionally, God’s omnipotence is, in a sense, limited by His own nature: He cannot sin, for example. Nor would omnipotence encompass the mutation or abrogation of one of His own decrees or actions.

    And, no; I have not addressed the question of natural evil. I have issue with both your definitions and as I stated on the 26th, with your original premise set.

  93. abadmin on Wed, 6th Jan 2010 11:50 am
  94. My entire article is about natural evil. It is obvious you cannot reconcile it with a god that is both all-loving and all-powerful. So, you go off into these meaningless diversions.

    I have witnessed this tactic before. Highly educated people who should know better than to believe in gods but who, for emotional reasons, still feel a need to cling to one. So they go off into these wandering side trails as a diversion. It is a diversion not only for the person they are debating but also for themselves, so they don’t have to deal with the primary question at hand.

    It’s basically the strategy of challenging practically every word, phrase, or concept by pretending they are inadequate. It occurs to me that I will never be able to answer your diversionary tactics to your satisfaction. Your defensive labyrinth is a refuge, but it’s too dense and leaves you wandering in circles.

    Some day, perhaps, the Problem of Natural Evil will hit you in a way you cannot evade it. Perhaps you will be volunteering at a Children’s Hospital or helping to clean up after a natural disaster. And you will realize that the reason you’re doing “the Lord’s work” is because “the Lord” isn’t doing it himself. Then you might be brave enough to ask yourself the question “If he’s all-powerful and all-loving, why did this happen in the first place?”

    Until that day, you can fool yourself into believing that your diversionary tactics address the problem. But I suspect you are too smart to fool yourself much longer.

  95. Dandi144 on Wed, 6th Jan 2010 8:11 pm
  96. What I expected. You, as so many of your compatriots who purport an adherence to logic , have no concept of the term. Any logical argument has three and only three structural pieces that MUST be established: the clarity of the terms, the truth of the premises, and the validity of the arguments. By obfuscating the terminology and truncating the premises, your arguments become nothing but a straw man attack. You engage in pure sophistry and not much more. Sorry if this is too complicated for you; sorry if it takes too much effort; sorry if you feel it’s not worth the effort.

    What is ironic is that the same arguments that you put forth have also been introduced by – and answered by – the likes of Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis and a multitude of other theistic adherents. None of whom, by the way, hesitated to expend as much time and effort as possible to guarantee that their understanding of the problem, its terms and its conditions, was solid.

    Since you prefer to argue ad hominem – a revered propagandist technique – rather than attempt to lay a logical framework, allow me to offer a response to your purely emotional appeal on the same level: Natural evil IS a problem. You don’t eliminate the problem by eliminating the possibility – in your mind – of God. Perhaps you will be volunteering at a Children’s Hospital or helping to clean up after a natural disaster. And you will realize that the only response you can make to mitigate the suffering of those in your care is: “Shit happens.”

    Enjoy yourself when you try to peddle your “solution” in the trenches.

  97. abadmin on Fri, 8th Jan 2010 10:15 am
  98. Your response was about what I expected. Yes, there were some ad hominems in my statement (which I knew you would catch), but there was also substance.

    The one thing that surprised me in your response was your apparent explanation for evil: “shit happens.” Yes is does, and the atheist worldview explains it. But I have yet to see it reconciled with the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving god.

    So, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. What’s your best excuse for why the all-loving, all-powerful god you believe in has created the conditions for, and expressions of, natural evil that we observe?

  99. Stuart Mitchell on Fri, 8th Jan 2010 12:56 pm
  100. You two seem to be arguing about the size, color, and shape of fairy wings.
    - “All thinking men are atheists”
    Ernest Hemingway
    - “If people are good only to avoid punishment and seek reward, we are a sorry lot indeed”
    Albert Einstein
    - “Reason must be destroyed in all Christians”
    Martin Luther