Thursday, January 10, 2008

How to Solve the Problem of Evil in One Easy Step

This post is a result of comments that you'll find recorded here . There is much more to it than the narrow focus of this particular post, but I'll probably get to the topic of Irish farmers and their uncanny ability to explain away Biblical atrocities later. For now, though, I present for your edification:

The Problem of Evil Solved in One Simple Step or Never Trust the Reasoning Skills of a Kiwibear.

The problem of evil is an age old one and it has stumped the theologians since the first time someone brought up the inconvenient truth that apparently needless suffering exists in a world watched over by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good god.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:

If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
Evil exists.
If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn't have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn't know when evil exists, or doesn't have the desire to eliminate all evil.
Therefore, God doesn't exist.

One of the strange Christians (I say strange because they are of that breed that you can never win a point against; they either deny they believe something, e.g., that the bible is inerrant, or that unbelievers go to hell, or they simply are so stubborn they can't admit to any error) debating over at Debunking Christianity challanged this Tri-Omni, i.e., omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, definition as what is being argued against when formulating the problem, stating the following:

The starting premise of the atheist argument is the tri-omni God. If we accept, for the sake of argument, that God is omniscient then the manner in which God exercises benevolence and power is by definition the best - by definition the omniscient God knows best, even if you...or I may think we know better!

It poor argument to cite an apparent contradiction between omni-benevolence and the existence of evil to disprove a tri-omni God while conveniently ignoring omniscience -
It is patent arrogance to argue that one knows better than an omniscient God - it is just silly to use that as the basis for demonstrating that such a God does not exist!

This person goes by the strange moniker of akakiwibear. You'll notice they did acknowledge omniscience as an attribute of god that the argument includes, but then oddly make the contrary assertion that omniscience is being ignored! This individual is seriously confused, as will be seen shortly (if it's not already evident from the quote above). However, it seems what they actually mean is that including omniscience solves the problem! In other words, God knows more than we do and so there must be a good reason for the existence of so much evil, so you stupid atheists are just arguing against an all-good, all-powerful god, but can't argue against an all-knowing god. What this ignores, of course, is that god could be omniscient without being omnibenevolent, but this never occurs to our Christian thinker. He/she just continues to promote the assertion without ever providing an iota of evidence (and some get upset when atheists say Christianity denigrates reason and muddles men's thinking).

In my response to the Kiwi, I accused said bear of a logical fallacy:

Dear Akakiwibear. It is precisely because of that supposed omniscience that the argument from evil arises, so no one is "ignoring" it. You are simply begging the question, though I do congratulate you on perfecting the art of circular reasoning.

I would also suggest you not accuse others of "poor argument" and "arrogance" while engaging in such things yourself.

Here is the bear's reply:

Sean, “it is precisely because of that supposed omniscience that the argument from evil arises” not so! The argument from evil is normally stated as based on the premise of omni-benevolence and omnipotence only, excluding omniscience, for precisely the reason I outlined.

“I do congratulate you on perfecting the art of circular reasoning” Thank you sean, I strive for perfection in all I do, but I have to be modest and admit that it is not really perfectly circular.

P1 – God is omniscient.
P2 – sean has a smarter way of doing things than God

Conclusion – God is not omniscient or any other unsupported conclusion you wish to draw as the two statements are mutually exclusive unless sean is omniscient and therefore God

Sheer genius! Aka has silenced all us fools with this stunning logic. Not!

I will let someone who is much closer to genius than kiwibear answer this, one Shygetz, who replied:

akaki, you are seriously begging the question in your defense, although you seem not to realize it.

Omniscience is always a part of the PoE. It has to be. If it's not, then a completely rational defense to any gratuitously evil act is that God simply didn't know about it, so couldn't stop it.

You claim that omniscience means that God "knows best". This is strictly true, but it does not imply what you seem to feel it implies.

The PoE (in one of its forms) states that:

1.) God is 3O.
2.) An omnibenevolent being would prevent any suffering that is not strictly necessary for greater good
3.) Unnecessary suffering exists.

Just because God knows what would prevent unnecessary suffering doesn't mean He's willing to do it. He may be evil or impotent.

You may claim that unnecessary suffering does not exist, but that is a hard claim to swallow. First of all, you must defend the seemingly absurd claim that ANYTHING is necessary to a literally all-powerful being who can change reality with a thought. Second, even if you acheive that, you must defend the absolute necessity of the multitudes of suffering that have no possible apparent use. Did a child swept away in the tsunami need to suffer every single microsecond that she did drowning after being ripped away from her parents? Just one instant of suffering beyond what was necessary for an omnipotent being to acheive some "greater good" violates the 3O God.

What you are doing is declaring without argument that all apparent unnecessary evils must be necessary solely by assuming a 3O God. In doing this you are begging the question/engaging in a circular argument, which is illogical.

I am not the greatest geometrist in the world, but if Euclid himself told me a triangle had four sides, I know enough to doubt either his sincerity or his sanity. Same with God--I may not be omniscient, but I'm smart enough to have a really good idea that not every single instance of suffering is strictly required by a 3O being to acheive some greater good that could not be acheived in some other manner with less suffering. I cannot infer by the PoE if God is ignorant, impotent, or evil (although I have my ideas which I have made quite public here), but I can infer that he must not be 3O.

Could a god with all three omnis still exist? Could JFK have survived his bullet wounds in Dallas and still be alive somewhere, living a low-profile life under a different identity? Do you know everything? You don't? Then I guess you have to admit it's possible. The real question is, how probable do you think it is?

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