Are Theodicies ad hoc?

apologetics Philosophy of Religion

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The problem of evil, both in its logical and evidential forms, is well known to philosophy of religion. Just as well known are a number of theodicies: defences of God, or explanations of why a good and all powerful being might have reasons for permitting the evil that exists.

But are theodicies ad hoc?

Stephen Law thinks so. His saying so was a reply to me, which was in turn a reply to him, so here’s the very condensed version of how the discussion got to this point, then I’ll get into what I want to say here. Some time ago now I had the pleasure of discussing Stephen’s “evil god challenge” with him and our host Just Brierley on the Unbelievable radio show, which I thought it went very well. That challenge is (to summarise incredibly) the claim that Christians have every bit as much reason for thinking that God is evil as they do to think that God is good. The evidence is just as good either way, and since Christians say the reasons for believing in an evil God are poor, Christians should grant that there are likewise no good reasons for believing in a good God. Sure, Christians can answer the problem of evil by appealing to theodicies (more on these below), but then, believers in an evil God can address the question of why there is so much good in the world by appealing to reverse theodicies (i.e. by saying that an evil god would have good reasons for allowing some goodness to exist in his world). Both sides are evenly matched. In short, the reply that I offered on that show (just part of the overall response I offer) is that even if we grant that both sides are evenly matched so far, this isn’t a problem if there are further reasons for supposing that God is good. After all, Christian don’t believe that God is good simply because there’s good in the world. One way they may make an argument for God’s goodness, I proposed, is by appealing to a moral argument for theism. We recognise that there are moral duties. I claim (and have elsewhere defended the claim) that there couldn’t be moral duties unless something like God existed, and the nature of those duties, such as the duty to be kind and merciful, to help others etc, point strongly in the direction of a God who himself is good rather than malevolent.

Shortly afterwards, Stephen began commenting here at the blog. He didn’t (as far as I could tell) actually seek to rebut the moral argument. Instead, he stepped back to a previous point in the argument where we were discussing how Christians respond to the problem of evil. In effect, his point was (again, my summary): “Wait, hold on. I know we granted for argument’s sake that Christian theists (and evil god theists) could offer their theodicies and be done with those problems. But now let’s revisit the problem of evil and the theodicies. You can’t proceed to offer a positive argument for God being good and not evil until you deal with the problem of evil, which makes it look as though God is evil and not good.” Now, I don’t see any reason why we have to treat the arguments in that order at all. The requirement lacks rationale (and may even be called ad hoc!). Why not deal with the moral argument first, as well as any positive reasons for thinking that God is good, and then consider objections, such as the problem of evil? But I’ll set that aside. The way that I replied to this was to point out that we have already granted for argument’s sake that there are theodicies that can be used, so unless there’s something wrong with those theodicies, what more is there to discuss about them? And then came what I now take to be Stephen’s one remaining line of argument. Rebuttal of the moral argument? There wasn’t one. An argument that the theodicies are not true, or not really compatible with a good God? None at all. Nothing. In fact there was precious little to salvage the evil god challenge in the end. The evil god challenge was left in the ditch, and now all we had was the old problem of evil, and the claim that the theodicies aren’t good enough. After all the to-and-fro, there was one consistent claim being reiterated as the killer argument: Theodicies are ad hoc, so they’re no good. That claim is made several times in this discussion, but here are a couple of examples to illustrate what was said.

But the thing about the theodicies, Genn [sic], is that they are what Popper calls ad hoc. They lead to now [sic] new tests. Or, if they do, but the further test fails, there’s always another gerrymandered explanation for the failure that can be cooked up.

And

Ad hoc explanations lead to no new tests. The theodicies are ad hoc, by Popper’s definition (he coined the phrase). Look it up. Or, when the theodicies are not ad hoc, and the further test is failed, they are salvaged by yet another defensive manouevre [sic], just as in the case of YEC, thereby rendering the theory unfalsifiable (ar an appeal to mystery, of course). Nutters who believe dogs are spies are [sic] the planet Venus, etc. employ the exact same strategy.

Since that discussion, I have also done a podcast episode on the evil god challenge, where I look not just at the moral argument, but also arguments around the nature of God and goodness, as well as at historical arguments for Christianity, and I try to show why the evil god challenge is simply unpersuasive, interesting though it might be.

But here let’s look at this last appeal for the evil god challenge (or rather, the problem of evil, which is all that’s left). Setting aside the fact that there are good responses to the challenge (I spelled three out in the podcast), the thread by which the challenge now hangs is this one hope: that all theodicies are ad hoc and therefore to be rejected. Are they?

Perhaps the strongest claim I have seen to this effect is that of a teacher who tells first year philosophy students that “A theodicy is an ad hoc attempt to explain why God permits evil and pointless suffering.” Now of course, if we get to just define our terms that way, then yes theodicies are ad hoc. But philosophy is typically about deeper things than just choosing to call things whatever you like. Prior to Stephen’s claims that this was the death knell to any reply to the problem of evil, I had not even encountered the argument that theodicies fail or are suspect because they are ad hoc. The reason I hadn’t encountered it is that in the literature on God and evil, the objection just doesn’t appear – or at least not that I have seen in any of the peer-reviewed articles, of which there are many on the problem of evil and theodicies. I’m also not enthused about the objection’s prospects by the fact that nearly the only place I can now find it suggested (apart from Stephen’s personal blog) is on fairly outspoken atheist blogs, sometimes in the comments section.

However, as any philosopher worth his salt knows, the novelty of Stephen’s objection does not show that the objection is mistaken, nor does the company it keeps! So I wanted to dissect the claim for all to see, giving what I hope is a clear anatomy of its weakness – which I think are considerable. Given that it’s a novel criticism that I think fails, see this blog entry as something of a vaccination rather than a cure, trying to pre-empt any influence this objection to theodicies might have.

What is an ad hoc explanation?

Ad hoc explanations exist for no reason other than to save a theory from defeat when it looks like the theory is in trouble. For some reason, when I hear descriptions of what it is for an explanation to be ad hoc, I’m always taken back to a conversation that took place at primary school when I was about nine years old. My friend was trying to impress us by telling us that their family car had monster truck wheels. Talk about cool! Unfortunately this friend had a reputation for telling tall tales and nobody believed him, but he certainly enjoyed telling the tale. I said, “but I see your car all the time when I come over to your place, and it doesn’t have monster truck wheels. It just has normal car wheels.” Then it came, the explanation that has come to occupy the space in my memory as the archetypal ad hoc explanation: “Yeah, the thing about that is, when we see you coming, my parents rush out and change the wheels, so when you get to our place you never see them.”

Oh, of course! Because that’s exactly what we would all expect the owners of a car with monster truck wheels to do, right? Wrong, we have no reason at all to expect that, and precisely there is the point. Sorry Damian – if you’re reading this, I didn’t buy your story.

This example highlights what is the main distinguishing feature of ad hoc explanations. They are “unmotivated.” That’s not to say people aren’t motivated to use them – of course they are, they want to save their story! No, being “unmotivated” here means that they aren’t naturally motivated by the circumstances in question, and are just cobbled together on a sort of impromptu basis (like the story that my friend’s parents swapped the wheels on their car, to save the story from defeat when I pointed out that I saw the car all the time with regular wheels). Here are some examples of ad hoc theories being denoted primarily as unmotivated: Nigel Thomas describes a problem for Description Theory, noting that it really doesn’t deal well with “ ‘classic’ imagery effects” (and just now it doesn’t even matter what these are), saying: “Although it is possible to devise explanations for them in terms which are consistent with basic descriptionist tenets, these explanations generally require otherwise quite unmotivated, ad hoc assumptions. None of the effects would have been predicted from the theory’s core principles.”

Michael Glanzberg finds fault with some ways of resolving the famous “Liar Paradox,” because they are “ad hoc solutions, unmotivated by our prior understanding of the concepts involved.” [Glanzberg, “A Contextual-Hierarchical Approach to Truth and the Liar Paradox,” Journal of Philosophical Logic 33:1 (2004), 27.]

In passing while discussing the problem of demarcation in philosophy of science, Thomas Nickles compares a number of thinkers, saying, “Like Popper, Lakatos and successors
such as Worrall and Zahar attempt to purify science of ad hoc statements, roughly, theory modifications that are heuristically unmotivated and that lead to no new predictions.” [Nickels, “Demarcation, Problem of” in Sarkar and Pfiefer (eds), The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 2005), 196.]

Or at a more popular level, here’s one from an internet discussion board, where a commenter explains why defences of belief in Bigfoot would be ad hoc (and I have no idea whether these defences are used or not):

Cryptozoologists who believe in creatures like Big Foot have been tromping through the forests for years now. By every reasonable extrapolation from how animals (or sentient tribes) behave, how big a population there would have to be, the likelihood of all these hunters somehow missing Big Foot is astronomically low. What’s the excuses? He can turn invisible, he can teleport, he’s not a physical being but from a parallel dimension, he’s an alien and has access to technology we can’t imagine, he’s psychic and erases memories from people’s head. If you think I’m making up this I’m really not. Can I prove that Big Foot aren’t all of these things? No, though I think I can give some arguments that these excuses are highly ad hoc and unmotivated, and only introduced to save the proposition “Big Foot exists”.

Of course, such explanations are indeed ad hoc, being quite unmotivated by anything other than to save belief in Bigfoot. If a large ape like creature exists in the forest and people believe this on the basis of having seen it (assuming they have), then we would not at all expect from this general claim that the being in question is also invisible or psychic. These explanations are unmotivated by the general theory (of Bigfoot’s existence), and have simply been tacked on to save the claim from defeat.

Jim Pryor’s summary is helpful:

You call something ad hoc when it’s introduced for a particular purpose, instead of for some general, antecedently motivated reason. So, for instance, an ad hoc decision is a decision you make when there’s no general rule or precedent telling you what to do.

Philosophers sometimes accuse their opponents of making ad hoc hypotheses (or ad hoc stipulations, or ad hoc amendments to their analyses, etc.). These are hypotheses (or stipulations or amendments) adopted purely for the purpose of saving a theory from difficulty or refutation, without any independent motivation or rationale. They will usually strike the reader as artificial or “cheating.”

For instance, suppose you analyze “bird” as “any creature that can fly.” I then cite mosquitos as a counter-example. They can fly, but they aren’t birds. Now, you might fix up your analysis as follows:

A bird is any creature that can fly, and which is not a mosquito.

This would be an ad hoc response to my counter-example. Alternatively, you might fix up your analysis as follows:

A bird is any creature that can fly, and which has a backbone.

This would be an independently motivated, and more appropriate, response to my counter-example. (Of course, someone may discover counter-examples even to this revised analysis.)

The problem with ad hoc explanations is not that they would never exist except to save a theory from defeat. Sometimes we have to wheel in explanations to save theories from defeat because we’ve actually got decent reasons for thinking that a theory is true, and we might otherwise not have thought of the explanation of apparent problems with the theory. For example, astronomers noted irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. But rather than giving up their views on gravity, which they had good reasons for holding, they hypothesised an unobserved object nearby. They were correct – that object was the planet Neptune. This new hypothesis was put forward to make sense of a model and to avoid having to give it up. But the hypothesis was legitimate nonetheless, because it was properly motivated. The proposal of a large mass beyond Uranus, interfering with its orbit, arises quite naturally from what people already knew about orbits, gravity, mass and so forth. Had they, on the other hand, suggested that “all planets are subject to the Sun’s gravity in the same way – unless that planet happens to be Uranus,” then we’d have a pretty unmotivated and ad hoc proposal on our hands.

Karl Popper made it clear that, in his view at least, being ad hoc may or may not involve being testable, saying (for example) that the best theories have numerous features including explanatory power, simplicity, being the least ad hoc and also being testable [Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Routledge, 2005), 438]. Not being testable doesn’t, in itself, make a hypothesis ad hoc. The main point to make about an ad hoc hypothesis is that it is unmotivated for any reason other than to save a theory. That being said, Stephen Law had a point when he said that ad hoc hypotheses lead to no new tests. Although claims that can’t be tested might not be ad hoc, it’s true that genuinely ad hoc hypotheses don’t lend themselves to new tests, which leads to one way of showing that a hypothesis is not ad hoc: It does indeed invite further testing.

Reading through any in-depth work that discusses the term quickly reveals that not all philosophers and scientists agree on what is and is not an ad hoc explanation or hypothesis, or on whether or not being ad hoc is always a bad thing (or on when it is and when it isn’t). Popper’s own take on what is and isn’t good science and what counts as pseudoscience or inappropriate ad hocness has been rejected by a number of good philosophers of science, and I have no real interest in those controversies. For a particularly strong critic of Popper here, see Greg Bamford. See HERE also.

What I have described, then, is just the barest essentials of what ad hoc hypotheses are like.

Why theodicies are offered

Theodicies are offered because they are asked for. The problem of suffering is a challenge to Christian theists (or any other theists who maintain that God is personal, all-powerful and good), and a challenge is only meaningfully a “challenge” if the person who puts it forward does so in good faith, to see if it can be met (and not, say, to announce that it couldn’t possibly be met, not intending to seriously listen to responses).

Here the line of thought in offering a theodicy is: “I think that I have reasons to think that God is a personal, all-powerful and good being. However, some people claim that the existence of such a being is incompatible with the existence of the amount of suffering that we see in the world. In order for this to be true it must be the case that there are no circumstances under which a being like this could conceivably permit the amount of suffering that actually exists. All I need to do here is show that this universal claim is not true, and that there are some circumstances under which we could imagine such a being permitting the suffering that exists. And I can!”

Here the believer is presented with a potential defeater for his beliefs. The defeater by its very nature makes a very strong universal claim – that there are no explanations we could (realistically) think of that might explain why a personal, all-powerful and good being might permit the amount of suffering that exists. This claim is very strong. Bear in mind that the theodicies are offered to answer the problem of suffering simply because the problem of suffering asks for theodicies, so it makes little sense to complain that they are only put forward in the face of a challenge. But is there any reason to think that the theodicies are believable apart from the fact that, if successful, they defuse a problem with a particular view of God? In other words, are they properly motivated?

What are theodicies like?

As this is not a defence of the truth of any theodicies, I need not assess their strength here. However, in order to see whether or not there is something about them all that makes them all ad hoc, I’ll briefly outline what some of the theodicies are and then look at whether or not they are unmotivated.

Free Will Theodicies. Free will theodicies maintain that an all-powerful and loving being, one who knew that loving him was what is genuinely best for people, would want them to freely love him rather than love him out of necessity. This shows a greater regard for his creatures, and it also takes account of the fact that love freely given is a greater good than love that is not freely given. But free will also carries a price, namely the price that some creatures will not freely love God and will do evil rather than good. This theodicy is motivated by what we might expect an all-powerful and good being to allow if they want to bring about this good, as it is plausible to think that such a being might indeed want.

“Greater Good” Theodicies. “Greater Good” theodicies (for want of a better term) maintain that we should naturally expect that an all-powerful, loving and all-knowing being knows the future and hence can see the outcome of all situations much better than we can (perfectly, in fact). If such a being exists, then it would surprising if they did not have some over-arching plan that we can’t fully appreciate. Hence there may be events that take place in the world that are hard for us to make sense of and seem tragic and pointless to us, but which nonetheless progress history towards the goals that this being has in mind, goals that are in fact very good. This theodicy is motivated by what we understand by the concept of a being who knows all things and who has meta-goals that are beyond our ken.

“Soul Making” Theodicies. Soul making theodicies maintain that if we were created by an all-powerful and loving being, it makes sense to think that such a being would want us to develop and grow in positive ways, including the development of virtues. However some virtues are such that they are best cultivated in the presence of evil. Virtues like compassion, mercy and so on are like this. Thus in order for a being like this to allow for the kind of development that we would naturally expect such a being to desire, evil is permitted. Notice that this theodicy is motivated by what we would already expect based on the core concepts of the theory involved (that God is our maker, that he is all-powerful and that he is loving).

Natural Law Theodicies. Natural Law theodicies maintain that if God is all-powerful and good, God would want the universe we live in to be one that, all things considered, is naturally conducive to our flourishing. However, as the saying goes, if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. A universe that is naturally conducive to our flourishing, all things considered, will not have one-off (i.e. ad hoc) laws that exist just for a limited class of circumstances. It will have generalisable laws such that phenomena in the Universe will be predictable. The net result of this is very good, allowing human life, all things considered, to flourish. But there are obvious down-sides here as well. In order for the earth to support life as it does, having a spinning molten core and plate tectonics is a good thing. The effects of this set-up are on the whole very good. This remains true in spite of the fact that it also causes devastating earthquakes, for example. Here the theodicy can be seen as motivated by a view of providence in general. It arises from considering the kind of world an all-powerful and loving being would need to construct if it is to achieve certain ends that we would naturally expect such a being would want to see achieved.

Are theodicies ad hoc?

And so we arrive at the question. In light of what it is for an explanation to be ad hoc, and in light of what theodicies are like, is it true that theodicies are ad hoc?

What of the features of ad hoc explanations that I mentioned earlier – that they’re not motivated and they don’t allow of any testing? Do theodicies have these features?

As it turns out, theodicies like the ones outlined here (and probably many others) are both motivated and testable. In outlining a number of possible theodicies I have already described how they are motivated. Compare them with the supremely ad hoc explanation my school friend offered for why I had never seen his parents’ care with monster truck wheels. Starting with the theory that his parents have a car with monster truck wheels, there’s nothing inherent to that theory that would lead anyone (i.e. that would motivate anyone) to expect them to hurriedly change the wheels every time they see me coming just to keep me from finding out about them. On the other hand, starting with the theory that a God like that of Christianity exists (who is all-powerful, personal, all-knowing, perfectly good and so on), there already exists in the theory itself reasons for supposing that – for example – such a being might want people to freely love him and so to allow them freedom in spite of the risks it carries. Or for supposing that such a being might want a self-sustaining universe that is capable of supporting intelligent life, in spite of the side effects of the required processes for it to do this.

It may certainly be possible to construct an unmotivated theodicy. However, the main theodicies that have been proposed are not unmotivated in the least. As such they are not ad hoc.

Are theodicies testable? If they are, then for this independent reason, they’re not ad hoc. Now of course a theodicy might not admit of empirical testing because theodicies are usually not empirical claims. Some theodicies might be empirical claims, such as: “Contrary to what you claim, in fact the Israelites did not, under God’s direction, carry out mass genocide of entire people groups.” But the more generalised theodicies, such as those described above, are not empirical claims.

There are of course plenty of meaningful theories that can be questioned and probed for weaknesses and strengths without being empirical theories. Take theories of numbers (or abstract objects in general), or metaphysical claims about objects, or larger theories like nominalism and realism for example. While all of these are the kinds of things that can be tested in the sense that they can be challenged and we can tell whether or not they are subject to certain weaknesses, nobody thinks that this means we would carry out empirical tests to evaluate the theories. If you want to test a theory that is not an empirical theory, then whatever testing you do will not be empirical.

As it turns out, in any relevant sense, theodicies can be tested. They are open to question. For example, take the free will theodicy. The claim is that if we think carefully about what it is for a being to be personal, all-powerful, all-knowing and loving, then we will see that such a being is likely to want people to freely love him. We can certainly do this sort of analysis once we have a sufficiently clear view of what it means to be personal, all-powerful, all-knowing and loving. And we can certainly challenge the theodicy with counter examples or denials of the implications of God’s characteristics. In fact some classical theists (those who maintain determinism) will deny that the claims of the theodicy are true.

It is true that a theodicy could be untestable. We could claim that “God told me that he has a reason for allowing X but he hasn’t explained himself to anyone else.” But it’s clear that in principle a theodicy need not be untestable, and the typical theodicies that are offered do in fact turn out to be testable.

In brief

  1. If an explanation is not unmotivated (pardon the double negative), then it isn’t ad hoc.
  2. Theodicies in general are not unmotivated.
  3. Therefore theodicies in general are not ad hoc.

What’s more,

  1. If an explanation is testable, then it is not ad hoc.
  2. Theodicies in general are testable.
  3. Therefore theodicies in general are not ad hoc.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 82 comments… add one }
  • Ricky picky March 4, 2012, 6:01 pm

    Pathetic.

  • Thomas Larsen March 4, 2012, 11:08 pm

    Ricky:

    Pathetic.

  • Steven March 5, 2012, 1:47 am

    Hi Glenn, thanks for posting on such an interesting subject. In your summary of the different theodicies, you leave out what for me is the all important one. I believe that God contains within His divine nature both happiness and sadness; joy and suffering. God experiences both the bliss of infinite awareness, and the suffering of being eternally alone. I am a panentheist and I believe God is everywhere and in everything, including all His creatures, including humans. God experiences through what we experience, but God is the one who creates all our experience. Perhaps God wants us to experience something of His own suffering (part of the yin and yang of existence described above), and that is why God creates suffering?

    My hope is that God never lets the amount of suffering that any individual experiences get TOO much; that He is ultimately merciful. Eternal enduring suffering is theoretically possible, and in light of that fact we can see that God does indeed choose mercy. Best wishes, Steven

  • colin March 5, 2012, 6:23 am

    But can you provide any theodicies to explain why a good Glenn would allow the presence of stephen law on his blog?

  • Matthew Flannagan March 5, 2012, 8:56 am

    Colin, while Glenn disagrees strongly with what Law says he recognises the greater good that comes about when contrary views are expressed and tested. Ergo he tolerates Law’s comments.

    Of course this is really ad hoc, and we could just as well conclude that an evil Glenn tolerated the good that comes about when contrary views are expressed because doing so allows the evil of having mistaken views expressed here, so we should reject the idea that Glenn really disapproves of Laws comments and claim that a Glenn Peoples who is a theist really does not exist.

  • colin March 5, 2012, 6:39 pm

    Now that you mention it, i do find the evidence for an evil glenn quite compelling!

  • CPE Gaebler March 6, 2012, 6:26 pm

    His blog banner DOES show his face wreathed in flames; I think it’s obvious what that means!

  • Nick March 11, 2012, 8:12 pm

    Thanks for the great post. Seeing how some of these arguments are formed and examined is very interesting.

    Cheers

  • bethyada March 17, 2012, 2:16 pm

    I confess I have read your long post only once, so perhaps you hint at this, but I don’t see that theodicies are ad hoc for the reason that I don’t accept the theodicy argument as proposed. Theodicy is asking why God may permit evil, the existence of evil is not an argument against God. Below is how I see the order of my position. I am not expanding the arguments, which you well understand and have done so on this blog, just showing how I read the consequences of the same.

    The existence of evil is an argument for theism based on the moral argument. If we concede that evil is in fact real (not just unpleasant) then theism is true.

    Not just theism, but good theism based on evil being a perversion of good.

    Thus evil suggests the question why would a good God allow evil, but it does not suggest that in fact God may not exist.

  • Glenn March 17, 2012, 3:22 pm

    bethyada, the problem of evil here is not simply moral evil (i.e. a violation of the laws of morality), it is badness, suffering. If God is loving and kind, so this argument goes, he would not want people to suffer so.

  • Geoff March 17, 2012, 6:07 pm

    And my answer to that is.. God does not want his people to suffer, so he became human, and died on a cross to enable the changing to the nature of humanity (which is that which actually causes the suffering).

  • Bwen April 6, 2012, 11:30 pm

    Also of note is that sometimes we have competing explanations (or entire worldviews) that each require a number of ad hoc explanations simply because we know we don’t know everything (like your planetary example) and if we actually managed to explain everything given what we know, that would be pretty amazing wouldn’t it? And so in that event, it can be a matter of counting up the quantity (and motivational quality) of ad hoc explanations on either side to find out which explanation is stronger on balance.

    Anyway, I should mention the moral argument fails to break the balance you’ve laid out because the sense of the existence of moral duties might be created to precipitate extra anguish and tormenting guilt in the world that satisfies the evil desires of the “all evil” god. In other words it is a great thing for an evil god if everyone believes in good and evil so that we suffer for failing.

    I’m not going to get into the entire case for Christian historical claims…

    …but I will refute the worldview anyway. The Christian philosopher’s god is defined as a morally perfect being. Perfection entails *at least* the lack of any blemish in actions. Evil is by definition a blemish (and is an admitted component of your Christian worldview). Hence any accommodation of any evil for any reason under any circumstances entails a not morally perfect god and hence your Christianity is refuted.

    Even if good and evil are not justified outside of the Christian worldview, this merely moves the bar back to disconfirming the hypothesis that good and evil exist. If we treat good and evil as a hypothetical account of reality and find that (as defined) they only could exist in your Christian worldview and we find that it is logically impossible on those terms, then Christianity is falsified in simply a slightly more elaborate way.

    I believe in naturalistic moral realism, but as you should be able to see, it is unnecessary to defend that here.

    In case it wasn’t obvious the popular free will defense is an accommodation of evil. A morally *perfect* being in control of everything that is created does not barter with components to get the “best” deal out of the moral equation. A morally *perfect* being does not ask itself, “what good do I get out of the deal *on balance* if I allow free will?” It’s just not the definition of perfection to allow even a single blemish for any reason whatsoever.

    Another popular defense is the idea that perhaps this is the best possible world that could be actualized. We can’t *absolutely* prove that it could even be even an iota better and hence this defense is supposed to be a good enough crack for the Christian god theory to squeak by. However, this defense erroneously presupposes that this god (who has free will to do anything) must create anything *at all*. If literally all creation possibilities entail the accommodation of evil for any reason, creation of any sort is not a morally perfect action this entity would undertake.

    Hence, we can say that morally perfect beings never allow for a single moral blemish…except for when we are talking about Glenn’s god. Nice and ad hoc in that bad way.

    And if for some bizarre reason Christians feel free to lower their standards of what “moral perfection” necessarily entails (and I wonder why they’d do that), we’d have to decide what we think a good metric for judging the reality presented to us is in terms of what the Christian theory seems to entail. From all of my background knowledge about what it means to be a “good person” and what it would take to facilitate the maximum amount of good people would require given most everyone throughout history a living chance at an adult life, the proper brains to think reasonably, proper education on all relevant topics, proper enculturalization to make sure people overwhelmingly tend to desire the correct things, proper resources to make sure that people are not living desperate lives that drive them to evil, and patrolling possible extremes so that no one is abused. This is exactly the kind of world we push for as humans and for good reason. Our world is nothing like this and so there is no way to make sense out of well worn Christian metaphors of “good shepherd” or “heavenly father.” How many news stories of children locked in closets and neglected by their parents for a decade of their lives, for example, does it take to figure Christian excuses for such things are “unmotivated” on the part of supposedly well meaning theists?

    So, nice try, I suppose.

  • Glenn April 7, 2012, 9:17 am

    Thanks for your comments Bwen

    “Hence, we can say that morally perfect beings never allow for a single moral blemish…except for when we are talking about Glenn’s god.”

    So in other words, just assume that there really are no theodicies, or at least pre-emptively declare that none of them are true without engaging any of them (because if any of them were true, your claim about what a perfect being would do is false).

    I just don’t think that’s really all that rigorous, personally. I might even go so far as to call it a bit lazy, but others may have a different take on it. Are you sure that the four lines where you claim to have refuted the entire Christian worldview really do the trick?

    I’d also say that it really looks like you’ve written for a purpose other than to discuss whether or not theodicies are ad hoc. It looks to me like you’ve just said (my summary), “forget theodicies, I don’t want to talk about them. I don’t even want to talk about your blog post, but I have a message for you! The problem of evil wins. End of story.” Do you agree with me that theodicies are not ad hoc (even if for an unstated reason you reject them)? Or do you have an objection to this blog post?

  • Ben April 7, 2012, 9:25 am

    Yes, I’m going to “assume” that the definition of “perfection” means *actually* perfect.

  • Glenn April 7, 2012, 9:27 am

    OK, well if that’s the extent of the depth, then thanks for the comment, Ben.

    (Sorry, I didn’t expect you to reply so soon, so while you were commenting, I added a few thoughts to my previous comment)

  • Ben April 7, 2012, 9:41 am

    Well, I don’t see how you can so causally set aside the definition of perfection to pursue theodicies. But if we make that impossible move, sure, I agree in a very narrow, everything else in reality spinning, kind of way on your point about motivated vs unmotivated ad hoc explanations. (I thought that would be taken for granted in my first paragraph of my first comment. You focused on quality of ad hoc explanations and I added a bit on quantity. I considered that complimentary.) I specifically pointed out how poor of quality theodicies are in understanding the extent of the evil in this world in the last paragraph of my first comment. But you pretended like I just made one single assertion even though I addressed multiple points in your post. I addressed two of your “moral argument” objections (the impact of the moral argument on an evil god hypothesis as well as the existence of good and evil if Christianity is false) and I addressed two theodicies (free will and the logical possibility that no greater a world could be made).

  • Glenn April 7, 2012, 10:27 am

    OK great, we agree that theodicies aren’t by nature ad hoc then.

    Now, I understand that you say you “specifically pointed out how poor of quality theodicies are in understanding the extent of the evil in this world in the last paragraph of my first comment.” The trouble is, saying that something is the case and then labelling it “pointing out” is still just saying that it’s the case. So yeah, you kinda did just assert, and as such I just see nothing to engage with.

  • Ben April 10, 2012, 6:27 pm

    smbc-comics.comI agree that ad hoc explanations are not automatically wrong and need to be evaluated for their quality and quantity especially in relation to competing explanations since they do by their nature weaken explanatory power. “My theory is still true, because I have this ad hoc explanation” does not follow. [So when your everyday joe atheist says, “your theodicy is ad hoc” they are probably saying the naturalistic account of an amoral universe is a better explanation for lack of such weak plot devices.]

    Obviously I’m making a much stronger claim that theodicies are the unprincipled version of ad hoc explanations that only serve to prop up a dead theory because the definition of perfection includes as I’ve said, the “without blemish” clause. Christians don’t mean god is morally perfect in some hyperbolic way or that he’s just the best there is even though he’s still kind of evil in some way. They mean *actually* perfect. And then they forget about that when trying to explain away evil. Any accomodation of any evil for any reason has to be counted as a blemish since this god would be responsible for everything else that exists and obviously Christians believe there is evil in the world. Even one iota of evil is fatal to the theory. You want to pretend like the definition of perfection is up in the air and that my treatment here is lazy and I want to portray your response as intellectually disingenuous. The proponents of the circular square god would have to say the same things you are saying.

    Also, you’ve used the moral argument to try to tip the balance between the all evil god hypothesis and the all good god hypothesis. I’ve responded that this argument does no such thing. If Christianity is the only way good and evil can exist and Christianity is logically impossible in terms of the internal incoherency from the logical argument from evil, then good and evil are logically impossible and we were mistaken about their proposed existence. Also I included an ad hoc reason why an all evil god might give us an illusionary sense of moral duties in order to enjoy the torment that can befall us when we fail. You’ve ignored my responses.

    If we pretend like you have some wiggle room and we say, “Well gee, maybe it’s okay for a morally perfect god to allow for morally imperfect circumstances…let’s evaluate that.” I’ve elaborated on that and you disingenously see nothing to respond to yet again. Here’s my hypothesis on that and you can tell me how far off base it is. I’d wager you have much of the same background knowledge and experience with what makes good people and what best preps them to accept correct moral and spiritual thinking. Perhaps you are a parent or at least have some ideas on how a healthy society should be put together. Even Proverbs says, “Raise a child up in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.” Now that’s wisdom literature that’s just probablistic and not absolute. But remember, we’re dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of competing explanations. And Christians all of the sudden want to shelve everything they know about the topic when dealing with skeptical objections. We all know that giving everyone a fighting chance as far as how long we live, what kinds of brains we have, what kind of culture we live in, what kind of education we have, and what kinds of support we have along the way has a great deal to do with what kinds of people are most likely to come out of that arrangement. Obviously the human race has not had that kind of support at all. And there are especially egregious examples of people being so poorly treated for such long periods of time (that the ones who died and maybe went to heaven got off lucky!), possibly best illustrated with this recent SMBC comic (warning, language): http://www.smbc-comics.com/comics/20120325.gif So if our background knowledge is allowed to apply at all theodicies look ad hoc in the bad kind of way even if there is some non-zero probabilility that they might still be true. It would take a great deal of good evidence from other issues to justify the use of such unlikely ad hoc excuses. And actually the evidential arguments from evil would more likely *re-characterize* whatever other evidence was presented to the extent you’d be proving there’s an evil or negligent, amoral, or impersonal god out there. So you do rather have to win the argument here with room to spare.

    The logical argument from evil refutes the entire worldview because it cuts to the heart of the very character of this god’s number one selling point and shows it to be a farce. The Christian god is not as advertised in a very fundamental way. Now, technically we can simply degrade the definition of the Christian god to “huge jerk face” and keep on going, but the vast majority of Christians along the spectrum of fundamentalist, to moderate, and liberal all cling to the idea of their god as perfectly good regardless of how they filter that information in application.

    It should be clear when we are setting aside the definition of perfection and evaluating the Christian hypothesis with lower standards, I’m not interested in just the bare bones “is there evil in the world” issue. I’m using what expertise humans do have to formulate at least a rough approximation of what we think a responsible deity would have to be doing in order for Christianity to be a good, *probable* explanation of the world. I’m interested in the organizational good properties in the world to see if they are anywhere near maximally inclined towards a reasonable attempt to create the best spiritual children in aggregate. And if some evil is allowed, or some eggs broken in the process, that would be at least more understandable on those terms.

    Alas, the standard retort to this is, “why should god listen to you?” or “who do you think you are to know better than god?” etc. as though we are not in a position to have to judge reality as best we can based on what we think we know. In other words, Christians are taking to it from a defensive position of having to prove something wrong, whereas skeptics are taking to it from the position of needing to make the best positive case for any worldview based on what we know. If metaphysical naturalists took the same dishonest route of Christians, we’d shut down the conversation with something like, “Who do you think *you* are to pretend like you know enough about reality to say it couldn’t have happened by chance?” There may be some truth to that, but if everyone gets to say that kind of thing, that’s gridlock and we’re stuck with agnosticism all around. Which isn’t, btw, Christianity.

  • Glenn April 10, 2012, 7:01 pm

    So in the end, Ben, it is just a case of you sweeping aside all possible theodicies in one fell swoop by saying that any claim that an all good God might allow any degree of suffering is false as a matter of definition. It’s also no good for you to just claim that any attempt to offer a theodicy is to “set aside the definition of perfection.” Plainly that is a case of begging the question. If any theodicy works, then that would indicate that we need not set aside the definition of perfection at all. So in short – there’s no short cut here. You can either criticially engage with theodicies and show that actually divine perfection is incompatible with any suffering, or you can choose not to engage the theodicies. If you choose the latter you can opt for a principled reason not to engage them, but as far as I can tell you haven’t rebutted my reasons for denying that theodicies are necessarily ad hoc, nor have you shown – as far as I can see, that they actually are ad hoc as I have explained that concept.

    Sorry, I can’t sympathise with your calling my previous comments “disingenuous.” It really does just amount to you rejecting all theodicies without evaluating them. I just don’t see what I could add to that – or what anyone needs to offer by way of response. You might be miffed that I don’t find your attempt at swift dismissal to be compelling, but that doesn’t make my comments disingenuous.

  • Ben April 10, 2012, 7:23 pm

    It’s called sarcasm, not “begging the question.” But I’m not going to keep going in circles with you.

  • Glenn April 10, 2012, 7:29 pm

    Ben, it’s begging the question because you just assume that actually the theodicies all fail to show that a perfect God might allow suffering, and you then proceed to say that any attempt to offer a theodicy – to show that a good God might allow suffering – is to redefine perfection to make it something less than perfect. But that is to just assume the very thing in question when it comes to theodicies: namely that they can’t show how a perfect God might still allow suffering. But since this is to take for granted the disputed claim itself, it really is a clear cut case of begging the question.

    But fair enough, these things can drag on if pursued to the bitter end.

  • Jonny June 29, 2012, 10:51 am

    Glenn,

    A thousand apologies if this was covered elsewhere (or perhaps in the myriad of comments above) but do you hold to any theodicy in particular? If so, which one and why?

  • Glenn June 30, 2012, 3:22 pm

    Jonny – Theodicies (as I use them at least) really just show what potential explanations there are for things like evil and suffering. I think they all have explanatory power but to be honest I really don’t know how I could tell, in every given case of evil or suffering, which theodicy captured God’s actual reason, on that occasion, for allowing that particular instance of badness. So I hold all of them – they all go some way towards showing that on any given instance there could plausibly be a reason for a good God to allow badness of one sort or another. The fact that this is true means that the existence of badness shouldn’t strike us as the (proverbial) end of the world, and really that’s good enough for me.

  • Hugh July 4, 2012, 1:17 pm

    Ben,

    Do you believe that having no children is morally superior to having children? After all, by not having any children, you eliminate the possibility of them committing evil in their lifetime. And since their wrongdoings would count toward the total number of blemishes on your moral record, wouldn’t it make sense that having children would make you less moral?

    Or lets say you had children in a time where some crazy technology was available to enable you to attain complete control over their actions, allowing you to stop them from doing wrong. Would this be the more moral way to raise your children?

  • Hugh July 4, 2012, 1:27 pm

    The problem I see here is your whole case rests on this strange assumption that allowing any sort of possible evil is a moral blemish. That’s to say that the very act of creating *anything* has an element of moral wrongness to it, if that thing can be used for evil. That’s a rather strange belief, and yes it makes your points consistent but it won’t get you very far if you want your argument to be taking seriously.

  • Ben July 4, 2012, 4:50 pm

    Hi Hugh,

    Yes, I believe having children is a morally imperfect action. Ultimately our kind of life is a messy balancing act of trying to do more good than evil and tolerating our limitations. Please note I’m not trying to be morally perfect and wasn’t blaming anyone for not being morally perfect. I’m pointing out the logical impossibility of there existing a deity with the kind of characteristics Christians popularly assign to it actually existing if there is even a drop of evil anywhere in existence.

    Thinking that one can allow even a hint of evil (by commission or omission when you are in control of all the variables) into any plan and consider it morally **perfect** is what the strange belief is. It’s just the definition of perfect. Christians don’t get to decide what that is. Sorry.

  • matt July 4, 2012, 6:36 pm

    I’ve always thought that it was downright strange to indict God for making a less than perfect world. It seems rather strange to think that such a thing would be possible in the first place, since anything contingent lacks at least one sort of perfection (that of being necessary). Anything God made would be contingent and therefore subject to some privation. Is God not perfect for having not made a perfect thing in this case? Obviously not, since it is logically impossible.

    But suppose we say that there is so much evil in the world and so much suffering and how could God possibly make such a world? Of course there is a ton of suffering in this world, that much is certain. What kind of world is it, though? It is the sort of world inhabited by beings for whom Being is a concern, and for a being to have such a concern it must be in some sense free (at least free enough to have intentionality). How would a just and loving God create a really good world for this kind of being to live in? This is just a sketch of an idea, but I think that these beings would first have to inhabit a place with some real stakes, where their choices really mattered, and it would have to be a place in which their rational faculties could flourish. In this sort of world these beings would be free to choose the Good, and in moving toward the Good they are moving toward the actualization of the better world. This better world would ultimately need to be brought about by God, since it requires change on quite fundamental levels to the first one (and the buck of “actuality” always stops with God anyway, on the theistic view), but it may ultimately be inhabited by those beings that were, in a sense, pointed in the direction of it. So, God could not make this final “perfect” world first if it is to be inhabited by rational (free) creatures. These creatures would need an environment in which to develop before becoming free participants of this “perfect” world.

    This is, of course, a story, but it seems to me to work for the purposes here.

    also, the logical problem of evil is quite dead. There is no logical contradiction between there existing suffering in the world and there being a maximally great being. There is simply no contradiction between the statements “evil exists” and “God, as classically conceived, exists” not even when you do a really good conceptual analysis of those two statements. Some of the confusion might come from thinking that God would have moral obligations of some sort as well, which is not clear. God could just be the measure of goodness, to which everything else would necessarily fall short by virtue of its being “not God”. But even then we wouldn’t say that God had failed to discharge any duty by virtue of having made something. I think, Ben, it would be helpful to hear exactly what you think a “moral” is. Also, are you familiar with J. L. Mackie’s “queerness argument”? If so, why do you think there are such things as morals (I think Mackie’s argument is quite fatal to atheistic moralizing).

  • matt July 4, 2012, 6:39 pm

    also, with respect to the issue of “begging the question”, I believe “sarcasm” of the sort you employ, Ben, is what is referred to as “question-begging epithets”

    It is essentially unreasonable, and the defense of such behavior should call into question the reasonability of the one defending it. At least, that seems reasonable to me.

  • Ben July 4, 2012, 7:24 pm

    Hi Matt,

    I will answer questions directed at me, but I’m not interested in rehashing politics from months ago. Thanks.

    A morally perfect being of the Christian god variety cannot do morally imperfect things. “I don’t understand why morally perfect beings would be expected to do morally perfect things” is logically incoherent. It’s not question begging to actually use a definition correctly. You’re not going to find a definition of “perfect” where “no blemishes” is optional if your worldview is about to be refuted.

    The argument against this kind of god does not require a positive definition of a morally perfect world. “No blemishes” is a sufficient and obvious condition derived directly from the definition of “perfect” to eliminate the Christian theory.

    The logical argument from evil does not require it even be possible for a perfect world to exist. If one could not even possibly exist, then a morally perfect being of the Christian god variety would simply not create anything at all. Biblically one might say, “If you don’t have anything perfect to speak into existence, then don’t speak anything into existence at all.”

    Your story entails the opportunity cost of allowing a great deal of moral evil in order to produce a perfect result. “Opportunity cost” and moral “on balance” concepts are not concepts of moral perfection by definition since they entail the inclusion of evil. Endless thought experiments have been designed by philosophers to tease out from evil utilitarian ends that how we get there is morally relevant. This is not news.

    Also, whether or not good and evil exist in a non-theistic understanding of existence (or whether I agree with Mackie’s argument) is irrelevant to the internal coherency issues of popular Christian worldviews who are presenting logically inconsistent ideas. The point is, **Christians** believe that evil exists in the world. It doesn’t directly matter to the argument if they happen to be wrong on that point (though obviously that would be a different refutation if it could be established). I’ve not once appealed to a moral concept that cannot be found within Christian thought.

    Even the “without blemish” clause is right there in the Bible. Does your god tolerate (for example) even a **hint** of sexual immorality? Can you do sexually immoral things with immunity that over time are intended to eventually lead to a sexually perfect lifestyle? Will you be able to claim you are without sin in need of repentance and that you have in fact been “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” as Jesus commanded? I don’t think so.

    Again, I’ve not invented anything here. It’s just been put together correctly on its own self-refuting terms, imo.

  • Glenn July 4, 2012, 9:17 pm

    Ben, it looks to me like you’re still doing the same thing – Just assuming with no argument that there can’t – literally can’t be a theodicy for the existence of any badness, and that’s that. Hence, you seem to have simply shirked off any interest in looking at the theodicies, so there’s little discussion to be had.

    Christians who do that when it comes to arguments in defense of atheism get called dogmatic.

  • matt July 4, 2012, 11:35 pm

    My story did not involve using “opportunity cost” to construct a theodicy. I was raising the question of whether or not God could create a world that is “perfect”. That such a world is not possible to create (I believe it is not possible to create it) means that God does no wrong in not creating something that does not, cannot exist in any possible world. So, the point is NOT that God has utilitarian reasons that would justify his making a world like ours, but that he does not do wrong in creating such a world which has contingencies like ours.

    Notice as well that I never said “I don’t understand why a morally perfect being would be expected to do morally perfect things.” This is why, I think, it would be nice for you to provide a clear explanation of what you mean by “moral”. My understanding of morality is that it is that thing that involves duties that persons have that hold across time and culture (a rough way of talking about it, but ‘duty’ is the term I want to focus on here). I cannot see how God would have duties. Of course, you can continue to put words in others’ mouths if it helps you “win” an argument. That sort of behavior in conversation actually is immoral. I do think, though, that one can learn from this sort of discourse, and over time develop a more conversationally perfect lifestyle (if one is properly oriented toward the Good, of course. One might think that “The Good” is winning an argument, or the approval of their friends, or some other peripheral “lower-case g” good).

  • Hugh July 5, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Yes, I believe having children is a morally imperfect action.

    Ben, this is not really what I asked you. What does “morally imperfect action” even mean? Do you mean to say it is an action which would not be carried out by a morally perfect being? If so, what you mean is that this action is in fact immoral. But then that would mean bearing children, in light of the potential for them to do evil in their lifetime, is an immoral action. If bearing children is immoral, we ought to remain childless – this seems ridiculous. You even go on to say

    Ultimately our kind of life is a messy balancing act of trying to do more good than evil and tolerating our limitations.

    And since remaining childless is well within human limitation, you have to concede that it is the right thing for us to do, which is absurd!

    Or by “morally imperfect action” do you mean an action that does not result in an outcome bereft of any kind of evil? If so, then this is somewhat of a misnomer, and you are conflating the description of the outcome with that of the action. A moral decision is either right or wrong, not perfect or imperfect. The outcome of a right moral decision might be imperfect, but that does not impinge on the rightness of the action. So still, you are committed to saying that having children as opposed to not, in light of the potential for them to do evil, is the morally wrong decision – which no one honestly believes. Likewise, it’s silly to think that God’s moral perfection is corrupted in creating free willed beings who may choose to do evil.

    To define moral perfection as you have begs the question for your case. You keep appealing to the definition of the word ‘perfection’ being ‘without blemish’ without actually giving an argument for why the act of allowing evil to exist IS a “blemish”. Earlier you said:

    Evil is by definition a blemish (and is an admitted component of your Christian worldview). Hence any accommodation of any evil for any reason under any circumstances entails a not morally perfect god and hence your Christianity is refuted.

    Firstly, “evil is by definition a blemish” on its own makes no sense. Under the Christian worldview, Doing evil counts as a moral blemish, but it is the type of evil which is characterized by a rejection of a moral obligation. The existence of evil is, trivially, a blemish against a perfectly good world. But how is allowing evil to exist a blemish against a perfectly good being? You have to give an argument for this, and in doing so you would need to engage with the relevant theodicies.

    I’m intrigued as to why you avidly hold the position you do. Could you point me toward any contemporary scholarly literature where the authors believes they have so swiftly refuted Christianity with the logical problem of evil in the manner you do? Because I think there’s a reason why its not defended anymore.

  • Ben July 7, 2012, 8:09 pm

    Hi Matt,

    “That such a world is not possible to create (I believe it is not possible to create it) means that God does no wrong in not creating something that does not, cannot exist in any possible world.”

    The fact one may not be able to do better does not logically entail that no wrong has been done. As for a being who is 100% morally responsible for everything that exists, it has to take into account the cost of the evil allowed into the overall equation.

    Further, I even conceded a point. It may not even be possible to make a morally blemishless world, but that doesn’t mean your god is obligated to do anything at all. I already said that. Where’s the response?

    “Notice as well that I never said “I don’t understand why a morally perfect being would be expected to do morally perfect things.” This is why, I think, it would be nice for you to provide a clear explanation of what you mean by “moral”. My understanding of morality is that it is that thing that involves duties that persons have that hold across time and culture (a rough way of talking about it, but ‘duty’ is the term I want to focus on here). I cannot see how God would have duties.”

    Yes, I do recall typing that sentence myself. Showing what one believes the argument of an opponent actually reduces to is not immoral. For example, Glenn believes I’ve not even made an argument and doesn’t even bother to address the many things I’ve said. I think that’s disingenuous, but I imagine he believes he’s acting honestly. Notice, it seems you had to make something up that’s implausible…that I didn’t realize you didn’t type that literal sentence.

    Anyway, if “has duties” is your basic definition of morality, and your god doesn’t have duties, then your god isn’t moral. It’s amoral. Hence all language describing your god as “good” is incoherent.

    On the other hand, your god supposedly has a “good moral nature” and hence has a duty to abide by its own good moral nature.

    I don’t know why you want to know more about my moral paradigm when you can’t even keep yours straight. Nothing about Alonzo Fyfe’s desirism or Richard Carrier’s goal theory is going to be relevantly different here since everything apparently turns on Christians accepting that “moral perfection” actually must mean “without moral blemish” or that allowing any evil for any reason necessarily has to count as at least a slight blemish. This is not some radical notion. It’s just Christians being in denial of the obvious and conveniently tossing out things from their own moral paradigm in order to avoid the issue.

    Think about it, let’s say that I’m starting a religion that has a morally blemishless god in the way I’ve described and you still have your morally justified god who allows for evil. Supposedly they are both morally perfect, but somehow mine is better. Is it possible to be better than perfect? Curious, isn’t it?

  • Ben July 7, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Hello Hugh,

    “What does “morally imperfect action” even mean? Do you mean to say it is an action which would not be carried out by a morally perfect being? If so, what you mean is that this action is in fact immoral.”

    Well apparently you see things in moral binary. In adult land all motivations, decisions, actions, and consequences are morally relevant and even at our best are always imperfect from a human perspective. Even when doing our duty our motivations for doing so are at least slightly tainted. And I don’t believe this position is incompatible with mainstream Christian beliefs. They’re just incompatible with the immature (and evil) belief that there’s a zero sum game between morality and immorality.

    “And since remaining childless is well within human limitation, you have to concede that it is the right thing for us to do, which is absurd!”

    If we have to be morally perfect, then yes, we should remain childless. I don’t recall advocating moral perfectionism or your moral binary for human beings.

    Incidentally, the two most prominent voices in the NT promote **celibacy** above all else and only tolerate marriage. The character Jesus did advocate moral perfection and do you recall how his disciples reacted to his teachings? They said it was “absurd” and Jesus had to tell them that their god was the only one that could help them meet that impossible standard. Have you not been paying attention at Sunday School?

    “…you are conflating the description of the outcome with that of the action.”

    Um, no, motivations, decisions, and actions for us are always tainted to some degree with selfishness off-center with the impartial perfect moral good for all. As for the Christian god idea its perfect motivations and decision making capabilities in light of the supposed impossibility of creating a morally perfect world would lead it to not create anything at all. It’s perfect moral nature would not want to be responsible for the existence of any evil whether by commission or omission.

    “To define moral perfection as you have begs the question for your case. You keep appealing to the definition of the word ‘perfection’ being ‘without blemish’ without actually giving an argument for why the act of allowing evil to exist IS a “blemish”.”

    No, Christians are simply inconsistent with their own definitions. Pointing that out isn’t begging the question. Allowing evil to exist that one could in fact have prevented or do away with immediately is morally negligent and this concept is a standard moral construct not alien to your worldview. It’s called a sin of omission. I’ve already mentioned that. “He who knows the good he should do and doesn’t do it, sins.” I believe that’s in James?

  • Ben July 7, 2012, 8:12 pm

    “…in doing so you would need to engage with the relevant theodicies.”

    When a **relevant** theodicy comes up, it will be addressed. Notice in the comments above from months ago, I’ve already articulated other arguments at the “evidential argument from evil” level. The problem at that level is that Christians aren’t interested in even probabilistic reasoning, they aren’t willing to apply all of their moral background knowledge to the issue, they aren’t willing to treat their claims as though they are a real hypothesis to be tested against competing claims, and they aren’t willing to be logically consistent with the implications in any event.

    “I’m intrigued as to why you avidly hold the position you do.

    The logic of it is straightforward, definitive, and crippling to Christianity in a primary way that Christians have to pay attention to. That’s why.

    Could you point me toward any contemporary scholarly literature where the authors believes they have so swiftly refuted Christianity with the logical problem of evil in the manner you do? Because I think there’s a reason why its not defended anymore.”

    For a list of those who argue similarly to what I have argued here (that I’m aware of), in “The Impossibility of God,” edited by Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier (Prometheus Books, 2003), we have:

    Quentin Smith’s “A Sound Logical Argument From Evil;”
    Hugh LaFollette’s “Plantinga on the Free Will Defense;”
    Richard La Croix’s “Unjustified Evil and God’s Choice”

    Then we have:

    Richard Gale’s “On the Nature and Existence of God” (Cambridge, 1991), pgs. 98-178,
    Graham Oppy’s “Arguing About Gods” (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pgs. 262-268,
    A.M. Weisberger’s “Suffering Belief” (Peter Lang, 1999), pp. 163-184.

    I believe they all take issue with the Plantinga v Mackie exchange.

    Btw, I’m not aware of any consensus in philosophy on **any** moral issue (i.e. 95% agreement by experts or higher). On the other hand atheism and metaphysical naturalism has at least a small **lead** in every philosophical category as far as professional philosophy goes. And while we’re at it, probably none of your Christianity-is-true relevant historical positions are mainstream, or your archeological positions, or scientific ones. So if you want to go there, you might as well forfeit the majority of your worldview. As Jesus might say, “You gnat-straining camel swallower!” He was pretty good at insults.

  • Ben July 7, 2012, 8:14 pm

    Sorry I missed inserting two quotation marks in that last comment. Beware.

  • Glenn July 7, 2012, 8:18 pm

    Well Ben, so far it just looks like this:

    Person raising the problem of evil: “God’s supposed to be perfectly good. But he supposedly allows this bad stuff too. How might the latter be compatible with God’s perfection?”

    Christian: “Well, here are some theodicies that seek to offer possible explanations.”

    Ben: “But God is supposed to be perfectly good.”

    Christian: “…. See above?”

    Ben: “No. I wont even consider possible explanations. There can’t be any. If God is said to be perfectly good then I won’t even look at any attempt to explain the existence of badness.”

    Ben, that’s as deep as your objection gets, so far. And really, to say that Christians need to take this seriously is a bit of a head-in-the-sand thing to say. A whole lot of attention has been paid to the problem of evil or suffering by Christian writers. Disagreeing with them is one thing, but suggesting that they’re just not taking the matter seriously is more than a little disingenuous.

  • Ben July 7, 2012, 8:23 pm

    All triangles do have 3 sides, Glenn. Sorry that sticking to a definition isn’t deep enough for you. How deep is it to just be contradictory?

  • Glenn July 7, 2012, 8:29 pm

    See? 😉

  • Nathan July 8, 2012, 3:28 am

    LOL

  • TS Davis July 8, 2012, 6:14 am

    I want to add my two cents. Or is it $2? Inflation…

    I didn’t read every comment.

    I have to ask myself if I want to go point by point through your post Glenn? I want to clear things up but for now I will back up… and make my point. Like it or not a theodicy is an ad hoc by definition. I understand you believe differently as you explained. “Motivation” is one reason and you give examples. I can’t possibly understand that you feel theodicies are not deeply rooted by motivation. I know we have moved from philosophy to psychology but hang tight. Are you now “motivated” to ignore the rest of my point? Of course, but we learn to read on right? We are getting into the study of human behavior in the social setting.

    You couldn’t come close to listing all of your motivations for doing any one thing. (My arm hurts so I’m motivated to type fast and leave out many points. etc.) Don’t underestimate motivation.

    2nd If it isn’t empirical than it is also a theodicy. Again by definition. Empirical evidence is a requirement.
    Peace

  • Glenn July 8, 2012, 10:37 am

    TS, that’s not what “motivation” means here.

  • TS Davis July 8, 2012, 10:58 am

    ———–
    This example highlights what is the main distinguishing feature of ad hoc explanations. They are “unmotivated.” That’s not to say people aren’t motivated to use them – of course they are, they want to save their story! No, being “unmotivated” here means that they aren’t naturally motivated by the circumstances in question, and are just cobbled together on a sort of impromptu basis (like the story that my friend’s parents swapped the wheels on their car, to save the story from defeat when I pointed out that I saw the car all the time with regular wheels).
    ————–
    Okay. Now you must accept that I’m using the definition that you prefer… You can’t simply use the negative of a word (unmotivated) and expect the definition to be other than the former’s negative. Unmotivated to not save a story – means – motivated to save a story.

  • Glenn July 8, 2012, 11:08 am

    TS, looking at what I said there (and you quoted), you should see that it’s a mistake to use the word to try to take the angle of me being “motivated” to save a story.

    The idea of motivation, when assessing whether or not a theory is ad-hoc, is not one about personal, psychological drives (which appears to be how you’re using it). It’s about whether a theory takes its lead from any of the facts already in question, or whether it simply shows up unexpected.

    You’ve chosen not to address the actual post, and it looks like you’ve come up with a new sense of “motivated” and you’re really missing he point. If you do want to comment on what this blog post says, I’m all ears (eyes).

  • TS Davis July 8, 2012, 11:40 am

    LOL
    I wasn’t. I was using it just as you used it with your example. WOW

    You seem to not understand that I know exactly how you’re using ‘motivated’ and the point is that you are using it wrong. How can I address anything that is based off of this massive error.

    Act as condescending as you like. I’m very secure.

    “It’s about whether a theory takes its lead from any of the facts already in question, or whether it simply shows up unexpected.”

    You are trying to talk science with a scientist and you use the word ‘theory’ as a layman. ??

    To show up “unexpected”? Unexpected by whom? Unexpected to me, or to you? We look to evidence, expected or not.

  • Glenn July 8, 2012, 12:10 pm

    TS, OK, I’ll just try to spell it out briefly:

    You’re talking about personal motivations, the sorts of things that psychologically drive people. For example you talk about me being “motivated to save a story.” What I’m trying to explain is that this isn’t the relevant sense of “motivated” to look at when determining whether or not an explanation is ad hoc.

    Now it’s true, I did refer to personal motivations in the blog post. But I only referred to them to point out how they’re different from the type of “motivation” that is relevant here. I said:

    This example highlights what is the main distinguishing feature of ad hoc explanations. They are “unmotivated.” That’s not to say people aren’t motivated to use them – of course they are, they want to save their story! No, being “unmotivated” here means that they aren’t naturally motivated by the circumstances in question, and are just cobbled together on a sort of impromptu basis (like the story that my friend’s parents swapped the wheels on their car, to save the story from defeat when I pointed out that I saw the car all the time with regular wheels).

    The important thing to appreciate is that while you’re trying to make much of your claim that I am motivated, the main feature of ad-hoc hypotheses is that, in the relevant sense, they are unmotivated. They aren’t motivated or prompted by the circumstances under consideration, they just pop out of nowhere (perhaps due to that other kind of motivation – the personal motivation to save a story that you seem to want to talk about).

    So never mind the snide approach with the “WOW” thrown in. Let’s just try to see if you’ve got an objection here (and you seem to think you do, I think). I’ve offered, in this blog post, an explanation of what makes a theory ad hoc, and I’ve offered an explanation of why theodicies aren’t necessarily ad hoc at all. You’re welcome to offer an explanation for why you think my comments are mistaken, but misconstruing the way I’ve used terms and getting cheeky about it when I try to set things straight just isn’t helpful.

  • TS Davis July 8, 2012, 1:16 pm

    Do you read my posts? I quoted that same quote from you. Hum?

    1. I use the phrase “Unmotivated to not save a story – means – motivated to save a story.” and you interpret it as if I am referring to YOU, but I am NOT. I used that wording because I was referencing YOUR own words before when YOU said, “That’s not to say people aren’t motivated to use them – of course they are, they want to save their story!” (look, it’s up there.) My second post #43
    …So everything after my post including your attitude towards me needs a serious adjustment.

    2. I have tried to offer an explanation as to why I think your comments are mistaken. You misunderstand me which ‘turns up your knobs’ and you express such to me; which then ‘turns up my knobs’.

    It all seems to come down to ‘your meaning’ of “motivated”, verses mine.

    Please tell me what you mean with this?
    “They aren’t motivated or prompted by the circumstances under consideration, they just pop out of nowhere (perhaps due to that other kind of motivation – the personal motivation to save a story that you seem to want to talk about).”

    Pop out of nowhere? (perhaps due to what?? motivation such as a 9 year old kid trying to hide a lie? or what about a 59 year old trying to hide a lie?

  • Glenn July 8, 2012, 5:06 pm

    TS, I cannot tell what your beef is (or even if it’s clear that you specifically have one, but your comments make it seem like you think there’s a problem with something in this blog entry). I genuinely don’t know what it is. If you are correct that you understand what I mean by “motivated,” then there should be no issue.

    You now ask, “please tell me what you mean with this?” – My first answer is thus: You told me earlier that “I know exactly how you’re using ‘motivated’ ” – and now you ask me what I meant. It would have been wiser to ask that from the outset. 🙂

    But OK, to give an answer, here is what that quote means: It’s a description of what it means for an explanation to be unmotivated, where an explanation does not arise from (i.e. is not motivated by) any aspects of the theory that has already been given, and has now been faced with a problem that needs explaining, but instead it is an explanation that has been concocted on the spot simply to avoid a problem for the theory.

    Think for example of the story about my friend and the monster truck tires. The explanation that whenever they saw me coming down the street, his parents would rush out and change the car tires, is not an expected part of the theory that their car has monster truck tires (which is the theory under consideration). It is unmotivated by the theory. If it is motivated, it is motivated in the other sense – the sense you came in talking about, that personal motivation to save a lost theory. (Although of course, whether an explanation is motivated in this second sense or not is irrelevant in determining whether or not the explanation is ad hoc.)

    Hopefully that clarifies things further.

  • matt July 9, 2012, 3:19 am

    I don’t see how we can have a fruitful discussion, Ben, if you won’t give arguments for your conclusions. This is the issue that everyone has had with you so far. Your claim that you were simply demonstrating what “my view” reduced to (that a morally perfect being could engage in morally imperfect actions) is an exemplary case of this tactic. You give no reasons, at least nothing clearly articulated to believe that this reduction is the case. Why am I committed to the view that god has moral obligations at all? This does not mean that god is beyond good and evil, but that God is the condition for moral obligations (whether you take the natural law route or divine commands). So, our duties are in some manner grounded in the nature of God, who is the supreme good, pure act, the greatest possible being, being itself, etc etc.

    I don’t believe that I’m failing to keep my view of morality straight, either. I suppose you could mean that my view does not conform to what you consider to be a proper understanding of Christian orthodoxy, or that you very much need me to be inconsistent.

    It will probably be worth my while to take Glenn’s latest words of wisdom to heart at this point 😉

  • Ben July 9, 2012, 6:03 am

    So how does one establish exactly that the definition of moral perfection (at the Christian god’s level) necessarily entails the exclusion of all evil from all creation? Do virtue ethics people get to say that they can arbitrarily ignore the consequences of their actions (even if they know horrible things will definitely happen)? Do consequentialists get to say that they can arbitrarily ignore the virtues of their decision making (as long as even evil intentions turn out all right in the end)? Most moral debates are typically at the human level where we don’t know everything and can’t control everything (and so there are problems with either side of that debate no matter which side you take). Not so with the Christian god. Hence, if you can know everything and control everything, why are you not taking just as much care with the consequences of your actions as you are with the virtues of your decision making? Of course the “duty ethics” theologians want to flatten morality down to just being obedient to whatever they lift from the Bible as though even Jesus didn’t indicate in many places that you are supposed to internalize and understand the underlying principles of the laws so that, oh, I don’t know you can have some moral sense in new territory. If your morally perfect god gets to arbitrarily ignore a whole wing of morality and my morally perfect god alternative has to heed all the wings of moral reasoning…why does your god not get docked credit in comparison? If it is obvious there is a way to improve upon the definition of moral perfection, then obviously your original definition wasn’t actually perfection in the first place.

  • TS Davis July 9, 2012, 7:48 am

    I’m out of here Glenn. You are so closed minded you read into my words with such paranoia. I’m not here for my benefit. You want to keep the discusion about what you think is my interpretation of your meaning of a word. A defense mechanism? The topic is are theodicies ad hoc? One of your qualifications is whether the theodicy is unmotivated. How can you say I’m off topic? Peace

  • Glenn July 9, 2012, 1:14 pm

    TS, my last comment had no purpose but to clarify. I don’t see how your reaction is warranted. Leaving the discussion is fine, but why do it in a huff like that? As you wish. Farewell.

  • Hugh July 10, 2012, 5:09 pm

    Well apparently you see things in moral binary. In adult land all motivations, decisions, actions, and consequences are morally relevant and even at our best are always imperfect from a human perspective. Even when doing our duty our motivations for doing so are at least slightly tainted.

    Actually, generally in ethics a person’s motivation for an action affects their own moral culpability but it does not impact on the moral nature of the action in question, so a “morally imperfect action” is still a misnomer. It’s nonsense to insinuate that having children has inherent wrongness because it is done by humans who have impure motivations.

    If we have to be morally perfect, then yes, we should remain childless. I don’t recall advocating moral perfectionism or your moral binary for human beings.

    It’s actually nothing to do with being perfect, or even moral binaries. You think that allowing any evil is always a moral problem, so abstaining from having kids will make you morally better under your view. Why would you not advocate for being morally better?

    Have you not been paying attention at Sunday School?

    I have, but clearly you haven’t. If you actually read those passages you would notice that neither are implying that celibacy is more moral or necessary for moral perfection. Jesus implied it waseasier to be moral when you’re celibate because you avoid the possibility of divorce and committing adultery by remarrying. Paul advocates celibacy because he views marriage as a potential distractor from living a Christ focussed life, in light of the presumption that Christ would return in their life time. Try reading and understanding before you throw around snide comments.

    As for the Christian god idea its perfect motivations and decision making capabilities in light of the supposed impossibility of creating a morally perfect world would lead it to not create anything at all. It’s perfect moral nature would not want to be responsible for the existence of any evil whether by commission or omission.

    Under the presumption that allowing evil is a moral flaw, but as usual you have failed to give an argument for this and instead rely on the definition of “perfection” being “without blemish” pretending that it somehow makes your position valid. Let’s stop reasoning in circles and present arguments.

  • Hugh July 10, 2012, 5:09 pm

    Notice in the comments above from months ago, I’ve already articulated other arguments at the “evidential argument from evil” level. The problem at that level is that Christians aren’t interested in even probabilistic reasoning, they aren’t willing to apply all of their moral background knowledge to the issue, they aren’t willing to treat their claims as though they are a real hypothesis to be tested against competing claims, and they aren’t willing to be logically consistent with the implications in any event.

    I’m still waiting for you to expand on the argument from the logical problem of evil without using circular definitions. You haven’t even done that. Let’s not jump the gun here.
    Btw, I asked you to give me a list of people who defend the logical problem of evil in the manner than you do. I read Quentin’s paper, and while he has some problematic assumptions, at least he doesn’t base his argument of “definitions” and thereby reason in a circle. Nor do I believe any of those other writers do.

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 7:13 pm

    Matt,

    “Why am I committed to the view that god has moral obligations at all? This does not mean that god is beyond good and evil, but that God is the condition for moral obligations (whether you take the natural law route or divine commands). So, our duties are in some manner grounded in the nature of God, who is the supreme good, pure act, the greatest possible being, being itself, etc etc.”

    If you want to propose a broader definition of morality where moral duties are only an optional part of it, then fine. Is that what you think you are doing? Because the implication would seem to be that as long as an agent has a moral nature they can be a moral being and moral obligations can come from more than one source. One can be obligated to country, to community, to family, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, etc. for a variety of reasons. Many Christians are not comfortable with that because it allows for “real morality” to potentially cut a god out of the picture as merely a more powerful, more perfect moral agent in the equation of life that may or may not exist without all value in the universe evaporating.

    So this is typically the part where Christians have to invent distinctions and deny a lot of things in order to hedge in their existential insecurity. Feel free to be as different as your intellectual integrity dictates. 😉

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 7:15 pm

    Hugh,

    “Actually, generally in ethics a person’s motivation for an action affects their own moral culpability but it does not impact on the moral nature of the action in question, so a “morally imperfect action” is still a misnomer. It’s nonsense to insinuate that having children has inherent wrongness because it is done by humans who have impure motivations.”

    I guess we could make an exception for Jesus’ mom? :p My actual claim was that all human actions (as we know them in this life) have at least some meager degree of moral wrongness to them (The decision to have children is just one example.). I didn’t realize this was a startling revelation to Christian moralists.

    “You think that allowing any evil is always a moral problem, so abstaining from having kids will make you morally better under your view. Why would you not advocate for being morally better?”

    You are still confusing a conversation about moral perfection with a conversation about being morally better than not. Perhaps you feel entitled to have moral perfection an achievable state of being in this life? That might be your morally superstitious problem.

    What I actually said that life is a messy process of cost benefit analysis and that would imply that having children may actually on balance make the world a better place. You also seem to be confused about the difference between increasing actual evils and decreasing **percentages** of evils. If you’ve learned from your parents’ mistakes, if you’ve done your best to make a better world, and if your children learn from your mistakes and do the same, potentially having kids can have made the world at least a slightly better place. Now maybe not, but that’s part of the gamble of life.

    And again, the problem with the popular Christian theory is that none of this applies to the definition of “moral perfection” for a god not able to make such “on balance” decisions.

    “If you actually read those passages you would notice that neither are implying that celibacy is more moral or necessary for moral perfection.”

    But isn’t it more moral to make sure you do your spiritual best in this life? Wouldn’t not getting married or having kids, by Jesus’ or Paul’s own reasoning make that the case? If they are both just tolerating marriage, then that means what they are advocating must be morally better.

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 7:17 pm

    More with Hugh,

    “Under the presumption that allowing evil is a moral flaw, but as usual you have failed to give an argument for this and instead rely on the definition of “perfection” being “without blemish” pretending that it somehow makes your position valid. Let’s stop reasoning in circles and present arguments.”

    I’d like to see you try to defend a blemished moral perfection that allows for moral negligence. What cop is doing her duty if she allows crimes to take place? What parent is doing hir duty if hir child is having troubles and nothing is done to help work through those problems? The concept of moral negligence is not some new contrived concept devoid of philosophical background or moral implications that I conveniently invented to disprove Christianity. You might pretend like you know what I’m talking about, since I’d have to call this the standard moral denialism of Christians who can’t be consistent with their own active moral background knowledge.

    So, if a Christian is saying that a moral agent is being held to the standard of actual moral perfection as the popular Christian theory would suppose, obviously there can be not even a hint of moral negligence. There can’t be any evil on its watch or any trade-offs that allow for evil.

    We have other well established generic moral terminology for concepts other than moral perfection if Christians want to relabel their mythology. There’s “the best he can do” and “the actions with the fewest moral trade-offs” (as though even **that** could plausibly describe our world) but Christians such as the ones found here on this blog can’t even seem to be able to acknowledge that. It is trivially easy to find a definition of moral goodness better than “as good as it logistically gets.” “Without even a single blemish” is obviously it. If I’m not mistaken, popular superstitious Christian ideas about their deity require their god to be **actually perfect** since this is an actual ontological prescription for the heart of reality rather than some description of an alien species who may have any type of moral nature (or none at all).

    Christians are free to propose any theory about anything they want (just like everyone else), but it makes little sense to complain when someone holds you to the concepts and terminology you use. You can’t just arbitrarily ignore whole wings of moral reasoning just because it suits your religion.

  • Glenn July 10, 2012, 8:01 pm

    Ben, when you ask about cops and parents, you’re essentially asking what grounds there could possibly be for thinking that cops or parents are good cops or parents while they allow X. Good questions. But by then saying that you don’t want to know what the answers are because there… just can’t be any! – You end the discussion half way. It’s one thing to start out – untouched by critical interaction – with the belief that goodness just requires X and can’t allow Y. But if you never ever interact with the given reasons for why it might allow Y after all, how can you be so confident that you’re right in just defining things as you do?

  • Glenn July 10, 2012, 8:03 pm

    Oh, one more thing, Ben: This blog has a character limit per comment to stop people turning it into a soapbox (no offence intended). Try to work with that limit rather than just posting back to back. If you really can’t, then probably what you want to write isn’t really a blog comment – it’s a blog post of your own to post at your blog.

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 8:10 pm

    I will hold myself to that standard in the future, Glenn. That’s reasonable.

    Quick question, what html allows for those quote boxes?

    “Good questions. But by then saying that you don’t want to know what the answers are because there… just can’t be any!”

    That’s a curious misrepresentation of my position since just talking about cops and parents isn’t the issue. That only establishes that “moral negligence” is something Christians actually care about. Now apply that base concept to “moral perfection” specifically of the variety where you have the option to do much more than any human cop or parent ever could. How could their possibly be an excuse if you control **absolutely everything** that exists and you don’t have to do anything at all?

  • Glenn July 10, 2012, 8:21 pm

    Ben, for the quotes, use < blockquote> and < / blockquote> (without the spaces in the code).

    And of course I realise that parents and cops aren’t the issue. You used them as analogies. But you really don’t want to know the answers tot he relevant questions here. The question is: What kind of reasons might there be for a truly good God to allow X (where X is something we deem bad). And the answers come in the form of Theodicies – theodicies that you refuse to even consider, because you take it to be analytically true that there could be no reason. Now until you’ve considered the reasons put forward, that’s plainly a premature judgement.

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 8:55 pm

    Thanks!

    You are correct that I consider it analytically true that exploring theodicies is a philosophical fool’s errand. That does not mean that I have not explored them anyway (especially given I used to be a Christian who defended them…). You are deriving a personal history of mine based on the incidence of the primary argument used and defended here by me. That does not follow. Another hypothesis would be the economics of debate. The larger the variety of claims proposed increases the argument burden exponentially. The cost of staying on topic for me is apparently the erroneous belief for some that I don’t have a large repertoire of other arguments in this category. Not true, sorry. You did just reprimand me (appropriately) for taking four comments to defend just this one cluster of issues… 😉

  • Glenn July 10, 2012, 9:11 pm

    “You are deriving a personal history of mine based on the incidence of the primary argument used and defended here by me.”

    Oh, not at all! The only history I am deriving is the history of your interactions here – nothing prior. And here (at this blog), you have apparently depended on your intuition that there can’t – just cannot – be a reason for a good God to allow badness. At least, if you’ve tried to explain what’s wrong with theodicies in previous threads here, and I’ve missed it, feel free to show me where.

    But if someone like me thinks that actually the theodicies show that the problem of evil isn’t a dead end for Christian theism, how do you expect me to view someone who doesn’t comment on the theodicies, but just says “there couldn’t be any!”

    Let me put it this way – if there are any moderately decent theodicies, then you’re not justified in thinking that it’s analytically true that a good God could allow no badness. So you have to take a peek!

    Now, you say that really you have done this in the past – to which I say OK, let’s drag that into the discussion then!

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 9:51 pm

    Yeah, the reason there’s no reason to dive into the particulars of theodicies is because they all by definition incorporate evil. The reason they’re not allowed to incorporate evil is because the “without blemish” clause of the phrase “moral perfection.” That’s just what these words mean. Hence a post on ad hoc reasons and theodicies is beside the point. Apparently you think there’s wiggle room for you somewhere in there…I don’t see even an iota. Perfect is perfect is perfect is perfect. No one sells “Moral perfection! Now with imperfections!” but apparently Christians do? As I see it Christians are not presenting any reason in principle to disregard what “moral perfection” at a bare minimum necessarily entails. It is the logical implication of the concept of moral negligence meeting absolute control over all that exists.

    We’ve been going in circles for a while now. I say “words and concepts have meanings” and you say, “You’re just asserting things without argument” and you go home and tell your friends, “Can you believe some atheist online actually thought moral perfection at least means the prevention of any and all evil within your power” and I’ll go home and tell my friends, “Can you believe Christians have made some special moral exception for their god to keep their worldview afloat!?” And we’ll both feel so justified.

  • Glenn July 10, 2012, 10:02 pm

    “I say “words and concepts have meanings” ” – Naturally, unlike me, who just thinks words are meaningless globs of sound! 😉

    “As I see it Christians are not presenting any reason in principle to disregard what “moral perfection” at a bare minimum necessarily entails.”

    There is so much there to reject. For one, there’s excellent reason to deny that the moral lawgiver could possibly be morally perfect. Indeed, I regard that denial as required simply by definition of moral lawgiver! 🙂 What’s more, what you’ve got to realise is that those who use theodicies are not saying “I want to defend the claim that a perfect God can be in some way imperfect.” That would indeed be analytically false. What they are saying is “I want to show you why, all things considered, the allowance of some badness might serve a good purpose that means on balance the result isn’t bad.” And this most definitely isn’t a question that can be resolved as a matter of definition. It requires engagement.

  • Ben July 10, 2012, 11:43 pm

    …there’s excellent reason to deny that the moral lawgiver could possibly be morally perfect. Indeed, I regard that denial as required simply by definition of moral lawgiver!

    Did you mean to say “could possibly be morally **im**perfect”? I’m assuming.

    You never did get back to me on your contentless definition of morality. Desirism, for example, says that morality is really about the politics of conflicting desires. Desires are neutral in and of themselves and badness comes from conflicts. Good desires are those that tend to fulfill many desires and bad desires are those that tend in principle to thwart other desires. A morally perfect world would then be one with all desires being satisfied and not at the expense of each other. Everything would be satisfied in perfect harmony.

    My logical argument from evil works without getting too far into things since “perfect” can be slapped on anything as long as a basic dichotomy exists that no one is going to reject. Perfectly blue, for example can be refuted by the existence of any other color being present as well. We don’t even need to know what blue or any of those other colors look like in order to be able to tell definitionally that something is not perfectly blue if other colors are present. Similarly if “perfect” is slapped on “good” as long as something called “bad” exists too, then we know whatever that other thing wasn’t perfectly whatever it was supposed to be.

    What they are saying is “I want to show you why, all things considered, the allowance of some badness might serve a good purpose that means on balance the result isn’t bad.”

    And the most relevant difference between us here is that I recognize that type of “weighing the pros and cons” concept as completely irrelevant to moral perfection by definition. With perfection there are no cons! You are in fact trying to tell us how a morally perfect being can be imperfect.

  • TS Davis July 11, 2012, 6:04 am

    Had to swing back by to deselect the “Notify” for this post. I skimmed a bit. It seems Hugh sees things as do I. Enough of this circular reasoning, which by definition gets you ‘nowhere’. Glenn you write with ‘proper’ double-negatives. Whether or not you realize this is unknown (and as I wrote it is regarded as ‘proper’) but very hard to read. A quick example of it in common vernacular is, “not impossible”. If you put a few of those in a sentence you are considered a philosopher. I hold philosophy with high esteem so this pattern concerns me.

  • Glenn July 11, 2012, 1:02 pm

    “You are in fact trying to tell us how a morally perfect being can be imperfect.”

    No, Ben.

    This is the same as saying that a balanced budget can have no expenses, and accusing economists of claiming that a balanced budget can be a deficit. It’s just not true. You really can’t use this to avoid having to actually address theodicies.

  • Ben July 11, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Yes, Glenn, there is just the right amount of rape in the world. Praise Jesus’ moral accounting skills.

  • Glenn July 11, 2012, 3:35 pm

    Ben, you’re evading. Your comment implies that you do think that theodicies fail, and that is what carries the weight of your objection, rather than definitions. But you state so often that you don’t want to talk about the theodicies.

    PS, there was no typo before. I really did mean to say that I think there is excellent reason to want that God is morally perfect, or morally anything else for that matter. Tune in to the next podcast.

    One last thought: Ben, obviously if the theodicies are any good, then your definition of God isn’t any good. However, I’ve made that point many times now and pointed out why you need to address the theodicies, so I won’t reiterate that now. Another point that you should take on board is that even if you cobble together your own understanding of divine perfection and insist that that definition of perfection means that theodicies cannot be considered, and even if Christian theists collectively gave up their philosophical senses and just let you do this you have acheived almost nothing at all. At best you would have shown that you have an objection to the existence of a being who has the sort of divine perfection that you’re talking about. But given how clearly you must see that this is not how Christian theists think of divine perfection, you obviously cannot then turn around and claim that you’ve got an objection to the existence of their God, who is perfect in the sense that they maintain – namely who is perfect in such a way that his creation, all things considered, is good. This seems to me to be a pretty heavy price to pay in the name of digging in your heels and refusing to even think in terms of the way Christian theists construe God. Surely you’d be better off coming up with an objection to the God that they believe in – which would, of course, require engaging with the theodicies.

    It looks to me like there’s just no getting around it. Whichever way you go you really will have to get your hands dirty and discuss the theodicies. Alternatively you’ll have to just step back from the issue and not claim to have any objections.

  • Ben July 11, 2012, 6:34 pm

    To speak to your point, the theodices **are** being engaged with the response that they are invalid because they incorporate evil. The details don’t matter. That the Christian god intends to balance his moral checkbook after Judgement Day betrays the fact he could have avoided it all to begin with. “Yes, my daughter is going to be held in captivity and brutally raped every day of her life for 60 years…but I’ll put those guys in prison afterward. Then we’ll go to Disney Land. So all is well.” How does that strike your philosophical sensibilities? Now, I’ve unnecessarily pushed it to extremes. The point is, moral perfection is moral perfection. There’s no amount of time delay or magnitude of crime that is going to be acceptable under those terms.

    What is your response going to be to the long list of implausible things Christians have to propose even after we forget that evil is a mark against moral perfection?

    Well, even though Lucifer was newly created perfect being…he managed to find a narcissistic streak in him so amazingly delusional he thought he could overpower an omnipotent being. Plausible?

    So…even though Yahweh created a paradise for humans…he still let an evil agent in to potentially pervert it. Why should paradise have a security system after all?

    And why shouldn’t people who are ignorant of good and evil be expected to make the correct moral judgment anyway?

    Oh, and of course rather than be fair after that and let Adam and Eve suffer for their own mistakes…no, billions of other humans get to suffer for the sins of the father.

    And so even though **we** know how to make the best humans, god doesn’t have to listen to that, right? Why doesn’t everyone have a sufficiently long life in this testing ground, why don’t they all have properly functioning brains free of cognitive biases to lead them astray, why aren’t they all encultured with the correct moral values and spiritual teachings from the beginning (let’s just ignore Proverbs 22:6 for the sake of your theory shall we?), and why aren’t they given all the support they would need throughout their lives so that in all likelihood (with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent shepherding god at the helm) no one would be lost. Instead, no surprise, Jesus even admits in Matthew 7:14 that our heavenly father loses the vast majority of us to hell (despite professing an apparently not so strong desire for the opposite). Wow, excellent shepherding skills, I must say, even if hell is just annihilation.

    And if we are in the business of asking what a god gets out of the “perfect” deal if it allows evil onto the balance sheet, even the free will theodicy falls flat on its face as it does not honor the concept of **informed** choice. What good is free will in such a vastly confused religious world that’s not even all religious?

    So there’s a Pandora’s box of moral idiocy awaiting us once we continue down the dark path of theodicies. Remember, it is not sufficient to settle for the improbable answers to so many obvious…

  • Glenn July 11, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Ben, I don’t think you’re seeing what I mean when I keep pointing out that you’re not engaging the theodicies.

    When I talk about rebutting a theodicy, I’m talking about making an argument that the proposed theodicy fails to show that a good God might have a specific reason for allowing a degree of moral badness.

    What you’re talking about is claiming that goodness is such that once called into question by the existence of badness, it is in principle not possible to propose a successful theodicy due to the nature of goodness. So you’re mentioning theodicies and acknowledging that they’re out there somewhere – I’ll grant you that – but clearly you’re not doing what I am talking about when I talk about engaging with them. You just don’t think theodicies should be engaged with. You seem to think that their very existence is inappropriate, and reveals that philosophers of religion who even consider them just don’t know what goodness and badness are really like.

    And then of course there’s the point I raised in my last comment: Even if Christians just got sick of waiting for you to engage with theodicies and let you off that hook, there’s still the fact that once they do that, you end up attacking something they don’t believe in. Of course – you can afford to do that, since you’re under no obligation to attack Christianity. But I got the impression that you wanted to attack Christianity. So you’ve either got to take the theodicies more seriously, or else just keep digging your heels in and make your criticisms of Christianity irrelevant because they attack straw men. I think you’ve chosen to do the latter.

  • Sandra July 11, 2012, 9:09 pm

    Oh for Goodness’ sake Ben…

    It’s patently obvious that all you’re doing is using an excuse to NOT deal with the issues, namely the theodicies. If the theodicies are any good, then you’re wrong that the existence of badness is incompatible with a good God. It’s transparently cowardly to keep saying: Nope, I don’t need to look at the theodicies. I know they don’t work because I know that the existence of badness is incompatible with a good God!

    Intellectual fear at its most palpable. Glenn, seriously, I like you, but stop answering! As Obi Wan said… “this little one’s not worth the effort.”

  • Ben July 11, 2012, 10:24 pm

    I’ve already said, Glenn, that I fully expect Christians to have incoherently low standards for their deity and that they will settle for the ad hoc philosophical low ground even when we allow for evil. I do get it. You only care that there’s some hint of a chance that maybe, just maybe there *could* be a reason to allow evil no matter how horrendously unlikely it is, because the entire weight of your case stems from completely unrelated terrain in your worldview. This of course flies in the face of mutually converging probabilistic reasons based on our common background knowledge I’ve already presented about how good moral agents should treat humans. Numerous probable arguments matter…proving a contrived conjecture wrong doesn’t (with the exception that I did that, too, with my main argument). That’s what you **should** care about like any good philosopher.

    See Christians do secretly believe that their god is *actually* perfect, with a moral nature that is absolutely blemishless. There’s a better possible god? What Christian is going to accept that? Also Christians secretly believe that moral negligence is a crime. Cops can just not stop crimes in progress? I don’t think so. The contradiction **is** the Christian hypothesis as imprinted on their sacred texts so in a meaningless sense you are right. That doesn’t save it. Of course Christians don’t put all of this together in a principled way…otherwise there wouldn’t be a job here to do. From my arguments a Christian should at least believe in maltheism. Is that a starter? So you can save the cliche’ “not my religion” nonsense, like I’m not talking about anything important in Christianity or addressing theodicies (for example the free will theodicy was addressed recently by name and conveniently ignored by both you and Sandra. I await you to implausibly disregard the concept of “informed choice.”).

    I’ve used appropriate standards, applied Biblical moral concepts consistently, and exercised numerous moral arguments to the better explanation that no good god of the principled Christian variety likely exists. The fact you feel free to disregard all of that in favor of the epistemic slums is not unexpected. That’s just what Christians do. And really, on a subjective personal note, how does swallowing all of it whole on complete credit not kill properly good Christian moods for you? Are you proud to eek by, or can you actually rejoice and celebrate the Christian god’s righteous evil like Paul abruptly does in Romans 11:33 (after the doozie in 11:32)?

    Sandra,

    Sorry to disappoint. What’s your favorite theodicy? Would you like to talk about it? I promise I won’t bother you with what the word “perfect” actually means in moral terms. 😉

  • Glenn July 11, 2012, 10:47 pm

    Ben, I’ve already explained what I think is wrong with the bulk of your last comment (sans an explanation of why the phrase “incoherently low standards” is weird: Incoherent, or just low. Choose), so I won’t go through it again. However, I noticed in your last comment that you’re saying that theodicies are ad hoc. That’s a specific and testab;le claim about theodicies, so at least that sort of engages them. Maybe this is progress, coaxing you to start to grapple with the issue!

    In this blog post, I offered an explanation of what an ad hoc explanation is like, and I explained how theodicies aren’t ad hoc. Although granted, you think theodicies are all false because you’ve got a definition of goodness that just rules them out so you won’t look closer to see whether or not those theodicies present a problem for your definition, why do you also think they are ad hoc, in light of this blog post? The more specific your answer, the better – If you do answer (I will understand if you’re just tired of this…)

    And no fair! I pointed out why you need to engage with theodicies time and time again, almost begging you to engage the issue of theodicies, and you stonewalled me continuously, but the moment Sandra mentions it, you offer! Am I really that scary?

  • Ben July 12, 2012, 2:17 am

    In your post you offered 4 example theodicies all of which have been addressed at both the standard of moral perfection as well as a cost benefit analysis standard where evil is allowed. You ask us to ask ourselves what sorts of things we’d expect from a “perfectly good” god and of course, we should expect morally blemishless results. Hence all theodicies are ad hoc. “Perfectly good” means the exclusion of all evil at the very least (if words and concepts aren’t “globs” as you say) and “theodicy” means the inclusion of at least some evil (or do I need to rethink that, too?). This is very straightforward. But specifically, you offer the free will defense which of course I’ve already countered with appeal to informed choice. Who respects free will, but does not provide the information on which to base that choice? If we are to ask ourselves what a “perfectly good” god would do, well I think he’d be a morally well rounded fellow who wouldn’t value free will at the expense of informed choice. Greater good, soul making, and natural law theodicies all specifically fail for the reasons I’ve already laid out concerning proper management of human beings (sufficient life, sufficient brains, proper enculturalization, continued support, etc.). You don’t get the best results by stacking the deck against humanity even if some individuals manage to turn out well by accident. One thing I’ll add is that there’s nothing confusing about the laws of physics working a certain way in general and then people understanding that a certain level of evil will be mitigated with other forces as though being able to call 911 is somehow “too much” for people to comprehend. Your solutions all fail for the same reason. They are all half-baked. They consider one myopic payoff, but not the big picture. There might of course be specifics we’d not able to wrap our minds around even if humanity were properly shepherded, but we’re just no where near even establishing the basic premise that they are shepherded for such a rationalization to carry any weight (rather than serve to merely obscure everything with a politician’s brand of plausible denial). Surely as long as the standard is there is some payoff x to method z, Christians will go home sated. Screwing everyone over in the worst possible way for a Klondike bar would suffice for that standard. However, in moral probability land, we can test my account vs. yours since most parents as morally inclined agents do their best to make sure their children have every opportunity to succeed without fear of violating their free will or thinking that various levels of neglect will somehow yield better results. Why shouldn’t Christians delight in sending their children to public schools to be indoctrinated with evil materialism!?! Wouldn’t that be better for them? Of course not. However in this religulous land, it’s often opposite day and much of our moral background knowledge gets casually tossed out the window (or mysteriously avoided as though my arguments have been wearing a Dr. Who…

  • Ben July 12, 2012, 2:19 am

    …perception filter.

    [Your character count is not very precise.]

  • matt July 12, 2012, 5:18 am

    So, Ben, if I can paraphrase you, you are saying that God, being omniscient and omnipotent, would be morally culpable for even the tiniest bit of evil in the world. If he is culpable then he is not perfect therefore he does not exist.

    This is exactly what the theologies address, though. They are addressed to the soundness of your argument, so you can’t keep saying that the theodicies don’t work because your argument does.

    But! You do say that God’s creation of this world would be something like a parent deliberately putting their child in harms way. This doesn’t really address the theodicies though (and casts the world in a rather desperate light, you don’t seem to be having that bad if you’ve got the time to write essay length comments here!). All this says again is that the badness is too bad for the theodicies to work. I believe that is begging the question.

    In your Klondike bar example you make the same mistake, in addition to comparing the resurrection to Klondike bars! If someone said to you that they had been through a great deal of pain, but as a result became a billionaire would you say, “I guess it was worth it for a couple bucks”?

  • matt July 12, 2012, 6:19 am

    Ugh

    Theodicies, not “theologies”

  • Glenn July 12, 2012, 5:10 pm

    Ben… the four theodicies haven’t been addressed other than at the conceptual level of declaring any explanation of badness moot in light of your view of goodness. Indeed, your chief defence/avoidance mechanism (and as you know, that’s how I see it) has been to plead that they need not be addressed at all.

    “You ask us to ask ourselves what sorts of things we’d expect from a “perfectly good” god and of course, we should expect morally blemishless results. Hence all theodicies are ad hoc

    And there’s the question begged for the umpteenth time.

    I think I was unwise to chime back into this, having seen your initial approach. Horses, water and all that. So the last say is yours.

  • Ben July 12, 2012, 6:36 pm

    Matt,

    you can’t keep saying that the theodicies don’t work because your argument does.

    No, *if* my argument works, then theodicies cannot work. As I said:

    “Perfectly good” means the exclusion of all evil at the very least […] and “theodicy” means the inclusion of at least some evil

    They are logically mutually exclusive. And so what Glenn really means is that he *doesn’t* really want us to consider what “perfectly good” would mean so that we could have some idea of what is ad hoc and what isn’t. He means, consider what it would mean *unless a clear concept starkly contradicts his worldview.*

    You do say that God’s creation of this world would be something like a parent deliberately putting their child in harms way.

    I actually emphasize the term “neglect” the most. It is the stark lack of positive influence that morally concerned agents are well known (as in, we have tons of evidence for this) to provide for humans they care about. Notice, this allows for evil in the equation. Glenn and others continually conveniently misrepresent my multi-layered argument.

    [your argument]casts the world in a rather desperate light, you don’t seem to be having that bad if you’ve got the time to write essay length comments here!).

    Um…that’s your Christian, modern, 1st world privilege speaking. Let me know when you’ve figured out that other kinds of people exist in droves.

    All this says again is that the badness is too bad for the theodicies to work.

    If Christians want their theory taken seriously they have to treat *probability* seriously and they have to treat our mutual moral background knowledge seriously even when it counts against them. I’ve outlined what I think the basic framework for a fair, cared for world would be even if it included evil. Wasn’t that what Glenn was asking us to do thoughtfully? The Christian response to that seems be, “Well that’s just what you think!” without providing anything like a plausible reason why anyone with knowledge of the proper treatment of humans should have different expectations even though I’ve provided numerous reasons why Christians should already agree with me (based on their own scripture & worldview in general). What if in response to the free will theodicy I merely resorted to, “Well that’s just what you think!” even if Christians were making consistent appeals to my moral paradigm already in use? That would be rather silly, wouldn’t it?

    comparing the resurrection to Klondike bars!

    I don’t recall doing that.

    If someone said to you that they had been through a great deal of pain, but as a result became a billionaire would you say, “I guess it was worth it for a couple bucks”?

    As I’ve said, Matthew’s Jesus lets us know that the “greater good” theodicy fails since most people will not make it to heaven. Ironically this is exactly what we’d expect from rampant…

  • Ben July 12, 2012, 6:41 pm

    …spiritual neglect.

    [Hey, I even budgeted extra characters and it still cut off my last 2 words! What’s the deal? Maybe I should include some junk words at the end of my comments so Glenn’s nefarious site can delete those.]

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