Friday, July 29, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Differing moral opinions do not negate the existence of objective moral values


Your last email about the moral argument provides a smooth transition into the next part of the argument. Premise 2 states that there are objective moral values. One of the primary arguments against objective moral values is the fact that cultures have differed in their moral views. I don't know if that's what you were getting at, but I figured it was worth saying something about. Before I go into why I think there are objective moral values, I first want to give a few responses to that argument.

First, it just doesn't follow that because two people have a disagreement that neither is right. People once differed on whether the earth was flat or round, but the earth didn't become shapeless as a result. People may differ on whether or not there are any objective moral values, but it doesn't follow that there is no answer to the question. The fact that people may differ on morality has no bearing on whether objective moral values exist or not.

Second, as C.S. Lewis demonstrated in the appendix to The Abolition of Man, cultures have agreed far more on morality than they have disagreed. It appears that there are some moral values that are universally held.

Third, all it takes for it to be true that objective moral values exist is that there is one objective moral value. We could grant that all other moral views are subjective, but if there is just one moral value that is objective, than the second premise in the moral argument is true.

So basically, the fact that cultures may have some differences in moral opinions doesn't mean there are no objective moral values. However, their differences do raise another issue. If people differ on their moral opinions, that may demonstrate that objective moral values are not universally known.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Moral differences do not show that morals aren't universally known

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Cultures differ in their moral values


Well, I understand all the arguments so far. One thing that struck me
in particular was when you said:

"Cultures may come up with rules, but they can change them any time
they want. They can get rid of them altogether. Whatever rules they
came up with would only be conventions that applied within those

Ever since I first traveled to a foreign country (1998), I've thought
a lot about the relationship between culture and religion. It seemed
to me that a number of beliefs and practices that Christian Americans
believed to be imperatives inherent to their faith were, in fact, only
culturally ingrained beliefs.

I noticed, for example, that while many Christians in America believe
that President Bush is a believer who is not afraid to stand up for
his beliefs, Christians in France, Switzerland, and England are
completely perplexed because it seems to them that although Bush
claims to be a Christian, his actions are a direct contradiction to
that claim. I also noticed, for example, that many young believers in
Switzerland and France (I spent 8 months in France and 6 weeks in
Switzerland before) do not seem to feel that it is wrong to be
sexually active outside of marriage. Now, I know that that is also
true for some here in the US, but there is generally more of an
attitude or underlying consensus here that says that fornication is a
sin. I didn't really get that impression there.

Another example is capital punishment. I never met a Christian in
Europe who felt that capital punishment was acceptable. In fact, they
believed that their faith - even Jesus himself - forbade it. They
could not comprehend why any Christians anywhere would be supportive
of such a practice. In fact, one man actually told me that it made
him wonder about the state of the Church in America.

But I've also seen some cultural differences on a smaller scale - from
church to church here in the US. The most obvious example from my
experience regards dating. My old congregation basically taught that
young people should not date. Obviously, this was very different from
the what was (and is) the cultural norm in many churches. But even
more interesting - and this is an illustration of cultures changing
the rules - I recently saw someone from my old congregation, and she
admitted that they had probably been a little too strict in that area.
Basically, after the conversation, I understood that although they
still didn't feel that dating as it happens in America was the best
way to go about meeting a spouse, it wasn't entirely dangerous,
either. So I thought, "huh. In the space of a few years, they've
really changed their tune about this."

Anyway, all of this is kind of a side note, I guess. But it really
does make me wonder.

Looking forward to reading about premise two...


Conversations with Angie:  Different moral opinions do not negate the existence of objective moral values

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Conversations with Angie: If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values


As I said, cultures can come up with values they more or less agree on. And in the absense of God, I would agree that these values are not transcendent. That is, they don't apply across the board. They only apply within a given culture.

But I want to explain further why I think that in the absense of God, there can be no such thing as objective moral values--moral values that would be true regardless of what any culture thought.

To say that something is right is to say that you ought to do it, and to say it's wrong is to say that you ought not do it. So moral rules are imperatives. They take the form of commands. Commands, though, can only be made by sentient beings. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when a person doesn't like the imperative being forced on them, they'll say, "Says who?" I think this questino betrays something we all intuitively recognize. If nobody says, then we have no obligation. If nobody is making the rules, then there are no rules. We're not obligated to obey a blind and indifferent universe. We can only be obligated to obey a person. So if there are objective moral rules--rules that we would be obligated to obey whether we wanted to or not--then there would have to be some sentient being who transcendes humanity--that stands outside of humanity--and imposes these moral rules on humans. Whatever imposes these rules on us would have to have moral authority over us. If there is no authority, then there are no rules. Cultures may come up with rules, but they can change them any time they want. They can get rid of them altogether. Whatever rules they came up with would only be conventions that applied within those cultures.

When I say "moral values," I mean more than just imperatives. I'm also referring to values such as good and evil. I think the example I gave in that post I made to Weirdbrake was a person starving to death on the one hand and another person enjoying a nice steak dinner on the other hand. Nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. If there were no minds or sentient beings in the universe, then nothing would matter at all. If there is no God, then all we are is, as William Lane Craig says in that lecture I linked to in one of my emails, "the accidental byproduct of nature." Now maybe you care whether people starve or enjoy steak dinners, but maybe somebody else doesn't care. In the absense of God, there would be no objective truth to whether eating is a good thing or starving is an evil thing. It would only matter to humans, and some may care while others don't care. But before you can start saying that anything in human history matters, you have to ask yourself whether it even matters that humans exist at all. If there is no God, then we're all doomed to eventually become extinct. Humanity will cease to exist. It won't matter that they ever existed at all since there will be nobody in existence for it to matter to. Ultimately, then, nothing within human history matters, because it doesn't even matter that we exist. Everything is meaningless in the objective sense. Only if there is a transcendent being who stands outside of humanity can there be such a thing as good or evil. But it isn't enough merely that some being exists outside of humanity. This being must also be necessary. Without necessity, this being is just another sentient being. But if the being is necessary, and transcendent, than the being can serve as the standard for good and evil in the entire universe. If everything derives from and depends on this being, then everything is endowed with its meaning from the necessary and transcendent being.

One more way to say that God is necessary for objective moral values is just to observe that values are only held by sentient beings. Rocks don't have values. Only persons have values. But if there is no God, then you and I may have different values, and neither of us is right, because there is no standard outside or beyond us by which to measure our values. Only if there is some standard outside of us does it make sense to say that your values are correct and mine are incorrect. And if there is a standard outside of us, then those standards must derive from a sentient being who also stands outside of us.

Tell me what you think so far.


Conversations with Angie:  Cultures differ in their moral values

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The meaning of "objective moral values"


With these distinctions in mind, I think I can answer your question. This is what you said:
I guess it comes down to the claim that good and evil have to be objective. Maybe they do NOT have to be objective. Can't it just be true that humans created the moral systems as their societies developed, and that they are still legitimate and valid? Most people groups have created codes forbidding stealing and violence, etc., and specifying punishments for transgressors. Fundamentally, the codes are the same for most of the world's people groups (as far as which behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not - the punishments obviously vary more).

Yes, I would agree that different people and cultures can come up with rules they all agree on. They would be true in the sense of being real descriptions of that culture's values. But they wouldn't be true in the objective sense, because you might have another culture who has a different point of view. If morality depends on culture, then that's cultural relativism. One culture, for example, may condone slavery while another condemns it. So is slavery right or wrong? Well there's no objective truth to the matter. It's just a matter of whether a culture agrees with it or not. When a person in some culture says, "Slavery is wrong," they aren't really describing slavery if morality is only a matter of cultural convention. Rather, they're describing their culture's socially constructed view of reality. They're describing the subjective preferences and values of their culture. They're describing how their culture feels about slavery. But slavery itself is neither right nor wrong on that view.

If slavery itself were wrong in the objective sense, then it would be wrong whether any culture agreed with it or not. Just as the earth would be round even if we thought it was flat, so also would slavery be wrong even if we thought it was right, assuming slavery is wrong in the objective sense.

I hope it's clear now what I mean by "objective moral values." Whether any moral values ARE objectively true is what the second premise in the moral argument is about, so I'll talk about that another time. Right now I just want to stick to the first premise.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values

Monday, July 25, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The difference between subjective and objective statements


Here I go back to the moral argument again. I'll restate it.

1. If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values.
2. There are objective moral values.
3. Therefore, there is a God.

I'll take these premises one at a time and begin with the first premise. Although this is probably going to be redundant to you, I first want to clarify what I mean by "objective moral values." I'm just doing this for clarity's sake.

There are two kinds of claims a person can make--an objective claim and a subjective claim. An objective claim is a claim about something external to the perciever. For example, the claim that "The earth is round" is about "the earth." Objective claims can be either true or false, but it has nothing to do with the beliefs or preferences of anybody. The earth would be round whether anybody knew about it or not. The shape of the earth is something people discover, not invent. It isn't a convention or a truth that's arrived at by taking a vote.

Subjective claims may sometimes appear to be referring to something external to the perciever because of the way they are phrased, but in reality, subjective claims are about the person making the claim. For example, the claim that "Ice cream tastes good," isn't really about ice cream. After all, ice cream may taste good to one person but not to another. Rather, the claim is about the tastes of the person making the claim. To say that ice cream tastes good is simply to say that you like the flavour of ice cream.

There are a couple of thumb rules you can use to distinguish between an objective claim and a subjective claim. If two claims that contradict each other cannot both be true, then they are objective, but if they CAN both be true, then they are NOT objective.

Take, for example, these two statements:

Ice cream tastes good.
Ice cream tastes bad.

Both of these statements can be true at the same time, because one person may like ice cream, and another person doesn't. In reality, the two claims don't contradict at all since they aren't even referring to the same thing. They aren't referring to ice cream, but to the tastes and preferences of the two different speakers. These are subjective statements.

Take these other statements:

The earth is round.
The earth is not round.

You can see that both of these statements can't be true at the same time and in the same sense. They're objective. They both refer to the same thing--the earth.

Another thumb rule to distinguish between a subjective claim and an objective claim is to ask whether or not it's possible for them to be wrong. If they could be wrong, then they are objective statements. Subjective statements can never be wrong. Can you imagine two people arguing over whether or not ice cream tastes good? It wouldn't make sense to have such an argument since maybe it's good for one person, but bad for another. It isn't possible to be wrong in your personal preferences for ice cream. But it IS possible to be wrong about the shape of the earth. If your belief in the shape of the earth fails to correspond with reality, then your belief is wrong.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  The meaning of objective moral values

Friday, July 22, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Reading recommendations on the moral argument for God


Although there are countless arguments for the existence of God, there are two that seem especially convincing to me. One is the cosmological argument, and the other is the moral argument. Since the moral argument is so similar to what we've been talking about already, I'll go through that one first. I think I can also respond to your last email in the process.

The moral argument for God's existence can be summarized like this:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

I was thinking that maybe what I should do--maybe what I should've done throughout our whole dialogue--is give recommendations for further reading in case you're interested in this stuff. A lot of the stuff out there says the same thing, but it says it in different ways. Some of these argument aren't easy to understand on a first hearing, but when you hear the same thing articulated in different ways by different people, it begins to click. Once I started understanding these arguments, lights began to go off, and everything began falling into place. I even began to notice the interconnectedness of all these arguments, and how when you put them all together, a picture begins to emerge--an entire coherent worldview. It's like a big tapestry. It's kind of like looking at those pictures where you have to stare at them for a while, and once you focus just right, a whole picture emerges. Do you know what I mean? So I was thinking if I gave you just a few recommendations, and you read them, maybe what wasn't clear in what I said would make more sense when you read it being presented some other way.

I was very surprised when I discovered the moral argument, because once I understood it, it became very pursuasive. But unfortunately, the moral argument is not easy to explain. The above syllogism is clear enough, but for any deductive argument to work, it isn't enough that the conclusion follows logically from the premises. You need something else--both premises have to be true. And the truth of the above premises is far from obvious to a lot of people. So you have to argue for them, and I have found that to be difficult. I've spent a lot of time on this argument, though, and most of that time has been spent trying to articulate, as clearly as possible, why I think both premises are true.

But I'm going to give a few references in case you're interested, and in case I'm not being clear. I'm not going to give you an exhaustive bibliography, but I want to mention a few resources that I think are especially articulate, even if they aren't necessarily very sophisticated:

C.S. Lewis gives this argument in the first four chapters of Mere Christianity. He defends both premises.

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith. The majority of the book defends the second premise--that objective moral values exist--and only in the very last chapter do they defend the first premise.

"The Absurdity of Life Without God," which is a lecture by William Lane Craig that you can listen to on-line. He also published a written version of the lecture in his book, Reasonable Faith. The majority of it defends the first premise, but he does spend some time defending the second.

If you want, I would be glad to send you a copy of Mere Christianity and Relativism. Just let me know. It's easy reading, and not very long.

I'll elaborate on the moral argument another time--maybe tonight. If not tonight, then Friday hopefully.

Take it easy.


Conversations with Angie:  The difference between subjective and objective statements

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Angie suggests cultural relativism


Let me say first that I really enjoyed reading this email. It was
very clear and well written. I think you could gather all the emails
you've been sending me and edit them into a very good book.

The arguments that you made were very good, too. They're very
logical. Intellectually, at least, I can see now that the problem of
evil is not a convincing objection to the existence of God. But I
can't really see that the existence of evil is necessarily a proof of
God's existence.

I guess it comes down to the claim that good and evil have to be
objective. Maybe they do NOT have to be objective. Can't it just be
true that humans created the moral systems as their societies
developed, and that they are still legitimate and valid? Most people
groups have created codes forbidding stealing and violence, etc., and
specifying punishments for transgressors. Fundamentally, the codes
are the same for most of the world's people groups (as far as which
behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not - the punishments
obviously vary more).

You mentioned before that you had some arguments for the existence of
God. Maybe now is a good time to go over them?


Conversations with Angie:  Reading recommendations

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

How I started making bows

I remember being around the age of 5, tying strings on sticks and shooting other sticks. I remember my brother building a pretty sophisticated bow like this. He put batteries on the handle and wrapped it all up in tin foil. That became our model for a while, and the object was to make a bow such that when you squeeze it, it makes a sound. James was the only one of us to be successful at it.

On the Christmas when I was seven, and James was eight, he got a fiberglass recurve bow, and I got a BB gun. But I really liked that bow, and a few years later, I got one, too. I loved that bow, and I shot it until I was a teenager, and it became too short for me.

My dad was a history buff, and he was especially interested in plains Indians. That also made him interested in traditional archery, and his interest rubbed off on me. I remember we used to have this book called Mystic Warriors of the Plains, and James and I used to spend hours looking at the pictures and reading about how the plains Indians made their weapons. It was all intoxicating.

I always wanted to make a bow, but all I ever had to work with was a pocket knife, and nobody to teach me how to do it. I got in trouble one time, because I cut a branch off my grandmother's dogwood tree to try to make a bow. I butchered one end of it, because I had spent hours cutting it off with my pocket knife. I never did finish that bow. I just became worn out trying to whittle it down enough to get it to bend.

Around the age of 20, my dad gave me a book called America Indian Archery that explained (not very well) some of the processes of making bows. Since then I thought a lot about making bows. The thought crossed my mind many times that maybe I could make a bow out of a board from Home Depot. I had seen some that seemed to be about the right size, and I figured it wouldn't be too much work. But I was too intimidated to try it, and I wasn't sure if you could make a bow out of a board.

Skip ahead several years, and out comes Lord of the Rings. I noticed there were several places on the internet where you could get sword replicas from the movie, so I did a search for Legalas' bow and found a few. Oh, how I wanted to buy a bow! Then I also got interested in English longbows and wanted one of those. I found some pretty cheap ones on eBay and elsewhere made of red oak and came pretty close to buying one.

Last year, I went to Scarborough's Faire, and there was a booth where you could shoot a bow. I had been wanting to shoot a bow for a long time, so I gave it a try. Out of ten arrows, I got two in the bull's eye. I was so excited, I went home, got on the internet, and started looking at pictures of those English longbows. That was the closest I ever came to buying one, but I was too poor.

Then it occured to me that perhaps I could just make one. I started trying to find out if there was any information about making bows on the internet. To my delight, not only was there LOTS of information about it, but I also discovered that you COULD make bows out of boards. Some people were even making them out of red oak boards from Home Depot.

I read a whole lot of web pages about building bows, but I was still intimidated by it. I would have to buy some tools, too. Finally, one day while I was taking my daughter back to her mother's house, something went off in my head. I was GOING to make a bow. After dropping Grace off, I drove straight to Home Depot, bought one of those red oak boards, a file/rasp, a Stanley surform rasp, a rattail file, and a 1 x 2 red oak board 6' long, which is actually 1.5" x 3/4" x 6'.

I went slowly, and after three weeks, I had a functioning bow, though badly tillered. Oh the joy! It was indescribable! I went to Mark's house (a guy in my Bible study), because he said he had some targets I could use, and in his back yard, I shot that bow for the very first time with a cedar arrow my dad had given me over ten years ago. Incredible, crazy joy joy! I was ecstatic!

I only intended to make that one bow because I wanted a bow and was too cheap to buy one. When I started it, I had no intention of making bows for a hobby. I just needed that one. But after the joy I experienced when I finished and shot a bow I made with my own hands, I couldn't stop. I kept making more and more bows. Mostly, I just made red oak board bows in the beginning, but eventually, I broadened my horizons. I made bamboo bows, osage bows, wood laminated bows, and even fiberglass bows. It has been quite the adventure, and there are still things I haven't tried. I LOVE making bows!

Lately, I have been experiencing the same thing with arrows as I once experienced with bows (desire and intimidation), and I feel it is only a matter of time before I make my first set of arrows. I already bought a fletching jig, and I've been cooking up ideas in my head for how to make dowels out of square blanks, and how to make a spine tester.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Finally reconciling evil with God's goodness


But there's still evil in the world, and that has to be reconciled with the existence of a wholly good God. That can be done like so:

7. Since God is wholly good, God has a good reason for everything he does.
8. God created a world with evil in it.
9. Therefore, God has a good reason for creating a world with evil in it.

What, in Plantinga's argument, was offered as merely a possibility turns out to be necessarily true. There is a good reason for evil.

Since we've come to this conclusion by deductive reasoning, the conclusion must necessarily be true. And yet we don't know what all of his reasons are. We're especially at a loss to know what God's reasons are for particular evils that seem pointless to us. But it isn't necessary for us to know what God's reasons are since we've arrived at the conclusion by deduction from true premises.

I think the argument I've been making answers every argument from the problem of evil. They all depend on there being real evil, and if there is evil, then there's God. Evil doesn't disprove God; rather, it proves God. So all arguments against God from evil are incoherent. As soon as you deny God, you lose any basis for saying anything is really evil, and once you have no basis for calling anything evil, you have no basis for objection.

Sorry this email was so long. I couldn't figure out a way to break it up without losing the flow.


Conversations with Angie:  Angie suggestions cultural relativism

Monday, July 18, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Arguments for the goodness of God


But a person might argue that while God's existence is necessary for there to be evil, it may not follow that God is good. I think there are two ways to show that God IS good.

First, just look at the properties of good and evil and what they mean. Notice that evil is what ought to be avoided, and good is what ought to be embraced. That's just true by their definitions. Good and evil are not equal and opposite. If they were, then you could exchange good for evil and evil for good. Whether a culture adopts the moral law that "You should always do evil" as opposed to "You should always do good," would be an arbitrary decision. But we can see, by the very nature of good and evil, that good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided.

Since this distinction between good and evil comes from God, and since between good and evil, good is what ought to be done, and evil is what ought to be avoided, it's clear that this God has a preference for good over evil. Everything that ought to be done is good, and everything that ought to be avoided is evil. It follows that God only prefers good, and never prefers evil. God, then, must be wholly good.

There's a second way to show that God is necessarily good that comes from an objection to the argument I've been making. It's called the Euthyphro dilemma, and it goes sommething like this:

If something is good because God commands it, then "good" is arbitrary.
If God commands something because it's good, then "good" does not depend on God.

Both horns of the dilemma assume that "good" is something other than God. The first horn assumes that good is below God, or is created arbitrarily by God. The second horn assumes that good is above God, and that God is obligated to live consistently with.

If good is a necessary objective feature of the world, then good cannot be arbitrary, so the first horn of the dilemma must be wrong. But the second horn of the dilemma must be wrong, too, because good cannot exist independently without any foundation in a personal being. It seems, then, that "good" is neither above nor below God. "Good," if it is to exist, and is to be a necessary objective feature of the world, must be equated with God in some way. It can't be other than God. Good must be part of God's nature, and his nature must be unchanging in order to avoid being arbitrary. God doesn't make arbitrary commands, that are then defined as good. Rather, God's commands flow necessarily from his unchanging nature. And good isn't arbitary, either, because God must be a necessary being with an unchanging nature. God couldn't simply decide to change the rules--to exchange good for evil and evil for good--because God is what he is, and couldn't be otherwise. All of this arguing entails that God is necessarily good, and he's good by nature. Goodness is an intrinsic part of God's nature.

Now that I think about it, there's a third way to show that God is good. Remember the most basic moral imperative is "Do good." All other moral imperatives basically say the same thing, but in more specific circumstances. All we have to do is ask ourselves a question: Would the world be a better place if everybody obeyed the moral commands, or if everybody disobeyed them? Obviously, the world would be a better place if we all cared for each other, helped each other out, never murdered, stole, or lied to each other, etc. It seems, then, that God commands us to do things that are in our best interest. But why should God care about us in the first place? We're just a tiny insignificant spec of dust in the universe that God could easily ignore. But not only has God given us the moral law, but he has always provided a means by which we can know what that law is. He has made the moral law known to us and impressed upon us by giving us a conscience, and the moral law is in our best interest. The conscience God gives us encourages us to do good and avoid evil by causing us to feel the incumbancy of morality before we even act. It seems, then, that God is good, and that God also cares about us.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Finally reconciling evil with God's goodness

Friday, July 15, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The incoherence of arguments from evil


The distinction between good and evil is a moral distinction. The problem I see with the argument from evil is that it's hard to account for objective moral values in the absense of God. Here's the deductive argument again:

1. If God exists, then evil would not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

This argument works only if the second premise is true. Evil must exist. But before evil can exist, there has to be some kind of moral standard by which to distinguish between good and evil. The distinction between good and evil is a value judgement, and value judgements can only be made by sentient beings. If there were no sentient beings in the universe--neither human, angel, alien, nor God--then it doesn't make sense to say that anything is good or evil. Things *just are*. If good and evil depend on people, then they are merely relative, and there's no reason to question God. If good and evil are to be objective, in the sense of being true whether we believed them or not, then they would have to depend on some kind of transcendent being--a being who stands over and above humanity.

The conclusion of the argument from evil is that God does not exist. But that conclusion seems to contradict the second premise. Remember the distinction I made between being implicitly contradictory and explicitly contradictory? Well, "Evil exists" does not explicitly contradict "God does not exist," but they ARE implicitly contradictory, and that can be shown by adding a premise that is necessarily true. Here's how that would be done:

4. If God does not exist, then evil does not exist.
5. Evil exists.
6. Therefore, God exists.

Since "God exists" contradicts "God does not exist," it follows that "God does not exist" is inconsistent with "Evil exists." The argument from evil is incoherent because it affirms a contradiction--an impossible state of affairs. It's impossible for evil to exist if there is no God.

The way deductive arguments work is that if both premises are true, and the logic is valid, then the conclusion must also be true. The only way the conclusion can be false, and the logic valid, is if one of the premises is false. If we grant that "Evil exists" is true and that "God does not exist" is false, then we must reject, as false, the first premise in the argument from evil, which says, "If God exists, evil would not exist."

Remember that this premise is based on the assumption that a good God is inconsistent with the existence of evil. God and evil cannot coexist. There's a contradiction between "God exists" and "Evil exists." But since this premise is false, it follows that there is no contradiction. There is no inconsistency. Far from disproving God's existence, evil proves just the opposite. If evil exists, then God exists.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Arguments for the goodness of God

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The argument from evil assumes the objective reality of evil


Before it even makes sense to raise the problem of evil, there first has to really be such a thing as evil. If nothing is evil, then there's nothing to question God for.

It seems obvious to me that there are some thing we question God about and some things we don't. We never say, "Why would a good God allow people to be comfortable and have enough to eat?" The fact that people are comfortable and well-fed never causes us to doubt God's existence. But we DO sometimes say things like, "Why would a good God allow people to starve slowly?" and that DOES raise doubts about God's existence.

I think it would be impossible to make these distinctions unless we had an idea of what good and evil are. We recognize that being well-fed is good and starving is evil, so one observation raises questions about God's goodness, and the other doesn't.

Suppose, though, that our sense of good and evil are relative. Good and evil aren't qualities that are really had by events; rather, they are our own subjective feelings ABOUT those events. In that case, you may look at some event and call it good, and I may look at the same event and call it evil. But neither of us is right since the event itself is neither good nor evil. It's like one person saying hot dogs taste good and another saying hot dogs taste bad. There's no objective truth to the matter. "Good" and "bad" are just subjective preferences. When people say "Hot dogs taste good," they're not talking about hot dogs so much as they're talking about themselves--how they feel about hot dogs.

If that's all good and evil are--just our subjective (or cultural) preferences--then questioning God about them would basically amount to objecting to God on no other grounds than that he seems to disagree with our preferences. But it would have no bearing on God's goodness or God's existence. Why should God be obligated to live consistently with moral values that we've basically just made up?

It seems, then, that it only makes sense to question God's goodness if good and evil are objective realities. If there really is a difference between good and evil that's true whether we know about it or not, then it makes sense to question why a good God would allow evil. So the problem of evil assumes that good and evil exist as objective realities.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  The incoherence of arguments from evil

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Conversations with Angie: update

In Angie's response, she basically just said, "although there are
things about the arguments that don't seem quite right, I have no idea how to
articulate my thoughts about them." In another email, Angie came up with a brilliant idea. She suggested we keep all the philosophy/religion in a separate email from all the personal conversation we'd be having. That makes it a lot easier for me to edit these emails for posting. We also exchanged some emails about the Sabbath day, but I'm leaving all that out, too.

The next blog is going to be kind of long, so I'll save it for tomorrow.

Conversations with Angie:  The argument from evil assumes the objective reality of evil

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The inductive problem of evil


The next version of the problem of evil is the inductive problem of evil. While the deductive and gratuitous problem of evil argue that God cannot exist given the amount of evil in the world, the inductive problem of evil makes a more modest claim. It argues, not that God's existence is impossible, but that God's existence is unlikely. While we can't rule out the possibility that there's a good reason for evil, the amount of evil in the world does seem to make it improbable that there's any good reason for all of it. That makes God's existence improbable.

Since the inductive argument is based on probability, other factors have to be taken into account. Before we can say that God's existence is improbable, we have to consider all the facts and weight them against each other. While the existence of evil may count AGAINST God's existence, there are other things which count FOR God's existence. The evil in the world, by itself, may make God's existence improbable, but when all the facts are taken into account, not just evil, then God's existence may NOT be improbable after all. We have to weigh these things against each other. Although I'm not going to go into arguments for the existence of God right now, I'll just tell you that I think the arguments for God's existence far outweigh the inductive problem of evil. So I would think God's existence is more likely than not even if I thought evil made God's existence less likely than it would be if there were no evil. Do you see how this all goes back to my epistemology I explained in my first emais? I simply weigh the evidence and incline my belief in the direction of the stronger case.

There's one more argument I have that I think answers every version of the problem of evil.

[deleting stuff]


Conversations with Angie:  update

Monday, July 11, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The problem of gratuitous evil

In a previous email, I explained (badly) how Plantinga solved the logical (or deductive) problem of evil. I'm skipping that because I've already talked about it in this blog, and because I didn't do a very good job of it in the emails with Angie.


[Skippity skip skipper]

The problem of gratuitous evil isn't much different than the deductive problem of evil. A person may agree that some of the evil in the world is consistent with a good God. You can imagine that there might be a good reason for some of the evil we see. But some evil just seems pointless, arbitrary, and gratuitous. Even if you grant that God's existence is consistent with some evil, surely it isn't consistent with how much evil there actually is and has been in the world. Surely the world wouldn't be THAT bad if there really were a good God. That's the problem of gratuitous evil. It's just like the deductive problem of evil, and can be formulated like this:

1. If there is a good God, there would be no gratuitous evil.
2. There is gratuitous evil.
3. Therefore, there is not a good God.

Gratuitous evil is, by definition, evil that serves no purpose--that is without any good reason or necessity.

I'll admit that the gratuitous problem of evil has some pursuasive power. It's hard to imagine that any greater purpose is served in some of the horrible suffering that goes on in the world. But the weakness in the gratuitous problem of evil is in the second premise. Remember that in the deductive problem of evil, it was shown that as long as it's possible for there to be a good reason for evil, there is no inconsistency between a good God and the existence of evil. All that would be required to account for evil in a theistic world is a good reason for that evil. The second premise in the gratuitous problem of evil basically says that there is some evil for which there is no good reason. The reason this argument is weak is because we have no way of knowing whether the second premise is true. It doesn't follow that just because we can't think of any good reason that therefore there IS no good reason. I want to quote you something from "God, Freedom, and Evil," by Alvin Plantinga, page 10:
Or suppose that the theist admits he just doesn't know why God permits evil. What follows from that? Very little of interest. Why suppose that if God does have a good reason for permitting evil, the theist would be the first to know? Perhaps God has a good reason, but that reason is too complicated for us to understand. Or perhaps He has not revealed it for some other reason. The fact that the theist doesn't know why God permits evil is, perhaps, an interesting fact about the theist, but by itself it shows little or nothing relevannt to the rationality of belief in God. Much more is needed for the atheological argument even to get off the ground.

The only evidence there is to support the second premise is our ignorance, but our ignorance tells us nothing about the truth of the second premise. So the second premise is simply without any support at all. We don't know that any evil is really gratuitous.

The gratuitous problem of evil fails for the same reason the deductive problem fails. They both assume God's existence is inconsistent with evil--all evil in the deductive case, and only some evil in the gratuitous case. As long as it's possible that there's a good reason for evil, then it's impossible to prove that any evil is gratuitous. If there is a good reason for every evil, then God's existence is not inconsistent with any evil at all. That means there is a possible state of affairs in which God's existence is consistent with all evil. Remember that if two things contradict, they cannot coexist in any possible world under any possible state of affairs. So if there is any possible state of affairs at all in which two things are consistent, then it's impossible to ever demonstrate that they are contradictory. God's existence, then, is consistent with all the evil in the world.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie: The inductive problem of evil

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bow update

The last time I posted pictures of my bows, several of them were deleted before anybody got a chance to have a look-see. Well, I have some fresh pictures of recent bows up, so I thought I'd post links to them.

Here's one I just finished for my daughter the other day.

Here's one I did for my brother a while back. I think I already posted this one though.

Here's one I did for a guy in my Bible study.

Here's another one I did for another guy in my Bible study.

Here's one I messed up, but I'm posting it anyway, because I like the handle.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Conversations with Angie: More on "proof"

I've been debating with myself about whether I should post this next email. I kind of feel like I'm beating a dead horse. I decided to post it anyway, since it's Friday. This way, I can start something new on Monday.


[blah blah blah]

Assuming I understand what you mean by "proved," I agree with you. It sounds like you're basically saying that nothing in philosophy can be proved in the sense of being demonstrated to the satisfaction of everybody. Philosophers debate things endlessly, and there's never any resolution. If that's what you mean, then I agree with you. I don't think there's a single issue that all philosophers agree on.

It doesn't frustrate me as much as you, though. I think it's part of what makes philosphy interesting. There are some issues, though, that I think every reasonable person OUGHT to have resolved. I mean I think there are some basic philosophical questions that we can know the answers to with certainty. I think we can know the laws of logic with certainty, and yet there's a lot of philosophers who dispute them.

Truth isn't arrived at by counting noses, though. I mean the only reason I get frustrated with the fact that people deny logic, is that you can't reason with them. Logic is necessary for any kind of rational thought, so if somebody denies logic, there's nowhere to begin. But on the other hand, the fact that there are quacks out there who deny logic doesn't shake my belief in logic at all.

There are also people out there who deny the existence of the external world. They say it's all just an illusion. Debates on the existence of the external world can go back and forth forever, and it can never be proved one way or the other. But the way I look at it, it doesn't need to be proved. I just ask myself which is more reasonable to believe--that it's real or that it's not real? It just doesn't follow that because two people disagree on something that neither knows the truth.

So the unresolved questions of philosophy don't bother me as long as I can resolve some of them to my own satisfaction. I have changed my views on things before. I read a whole lot of stuff. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree, and sometimes I'm pursuaded to change my mind. The whole process has caused me to be a little more cautious than I used to be about buying into things I hear about. I'll usually remain agnostic about something until I have good reasons to lean one way or the other. The more you know about something, the more prone you are to have an opinion about it.

>At the same time, I still have that lingering
>need to be convinced of the truth of something before
>applying it in my life.

Are you convinced that there's no God? Or do you just THINK there's no God? There are some things that we just have no choice but to act on, even if we lack certainty. This whole God thing seems to be one of those things. You're either a Christian or you're not a Christian. A person who isn't sure whether God exists or not but suspects that it's slightly more likely that God DOES exist still has to decide whether he's going to be a Christian or not. The same decision faces somebody who thinks it's slightly more likely that God does NOT exist. It can be frustrating when it seems like both sides have good arguments, but if you're in a situation where you have to make a choice, it seems like you ought to go with whatever side seems stronger, even if it only seems a little stronger. I guess I'm beating a dead horse, though, huh?

I've got one more response to the problem of evil, don't you worry, I'll get to it some day. Then we can move on.


Conversations with Angie:  The problem of gratuitous evil

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The meaning of proof in epistemology

In some of the emails I've skipped, we got into a discussion about what it means for something to be "proved." Since we touched on some more epistemological issues, I thought it would be interesting to post some of that conversation. I'm cutting a lot out of these emails so I can isolate the epistemological parts.


I have to admit that I was getting kind of frustrated as I was reading them. I feel like (and this has been my frustration w/ philosophy in the past) these things turn into an endless discussion that can neither be proved nor disproved. Even when you talked about the distinction between refutation and rebuttal, I thought that, really, all of the research, learning, and discussion in the world cannot prove anything on this subject. Christianity can neither be proved nor disproved.


What do you mean by "proved"? I'm not asking that to be silly either. People mean different things when they say "proved." I want to find out whether or not I agree with you, and that will depend on what you mean.


I'm referring to what we've discussed before - that there are very few things that we can know for a certainty. In philosophical discussions in general, I've found that people usually go back and forth and back and forth without ever reaching a point where either is convinced of anything other than whatever they started out believing. Obviously, I know that it doesn't always work that way - I suppose most philosophers' views change over time.

I guess the issue is that I am an extremely practical person. I want to see how things can be useful in a practical way, and if I can't see that straight away, I begin to get impatient. At the same time, I still have that lingering need to be convinced of the truth of something before applying it in my life. What this means, essentially, is that I spend a lot of time thinking about things and ideas (not just Christianity) and trying to decide whether they're convincing enough to put into practice. It's that thought pattern that results in always trying to find the "best" choice, the "best" path, etc. It can be exhausting, and honestly, tends to paralyze me.

Hmmm maybe I didn't really answer your question, but hopefully you get a better sense of what I mean. Let me know if you need more clarification, and I'll try.


Conversations with Angie:  More on "proof"

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Summaries of skipped emails

I'm skipping a bunch of emails at this point. Angie and I went back and forth a few times over whether or not freedom is a good thing, whether or not it's possible to know if a world with or without free will would be better, and whether or not it even matters in the problem of evil. We never reached any agreement.

We also talked about the difference between the emotional problem of evil and the intellectual problem of evil. From that discussion, it becames clear that Angie's problem with evil was intellectual.

I told her there were a few different responses to the problem of evil. One of them was Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil. I'm skipping that because (1) I misrepresented it by oversimplifying it in my emails to Angie, and (2) I've already addressed it enough on my blog.

I guess that's about it. Next, I'm going to give another response to the problem of evil.

Conversations with Angie:  The meaning of proof in epistemology

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Is free will a good thing?


In response to the free will theodicy, you said there really is no reason for God to have created us with free will instead of without. Actually there is, and that's premise 3 in the free will argument I gave you. Free will is a good thing. That's the reason God created it. The argument goes something like this:

1. Since God is good, he brings about good states of affairs.
2. Free will is a good state of affairs.
3. Therefore, God brings about free will.

I made the parenthetical comment that arguments are usually given for why free will is a good thing, and that I'd spare you, but since you seem to question this premise, I'll go ahead and tell you some of those reasons. I'll just list them. I'm not going to spend too much time on this, because like I said, this isn't really how I would answer the problem of evil.

1. Genuine love isn't possible unless it's chosen.
2. Virtue isn't possible without free will.
3. Rational thinking isn't possible without free will.
4. Free will is good in and of itself because it's simply better to be free than not to be free.

So yes, God could have created us without free will, and evil would never have entered the world. But it would've been contrary to his good nature to do so.

It would appear, given the free will defense, that God had a choice to make. Either create a world with no free will and no evil, or create a world with free will that would end up producing evil. Those were the only options. Since God is good, God would've created the best of all possible worlds. He would've chosen the greater goods between these two possible worlds. The advocate of the free will defense would argue that the good of free will outweighs the bad of evil, so it's worth it to God to create free creatures even though it results in evil. It's better than a world without evil but that is devoid of free creatures capable of love, virtue, rationality, and freedom. This is especially true from a Christian point of view since God has a plan to rid the world of evil at some point, so the presence of evil is of finite duration--a glit in eternity.


Conversations with Angie:  Summaries of skipped emails

Monday, July 04, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Angie vs problem of evil, and Romans vs the butterfly efffect


[deleting some stuff]

You said on the one hand that the problem I was addressing was not exactly your problem, but when you restated your problem, it sounded to me like it WAS your problem. You just characterize it a little differently.

The problem of evil states that God and evil cannot coexist. You state that God's character and evil cannot coexist. But the character you describe is the Christian idea of God. If God does not have the character traits you say are inconsist with evil, then the Christian God does not exist. The character traits you say are inconsistent with the existence of evil are character traits that the Christian God is supposed to have. If evil exists, then according to your reasoning, the Christian God does not exist. Maybe SOME God exists, but it's not the Christian one. Do you see what I mean?

I agree with you that the passage in Romans does not support the butterfly effect since it was God who subjected the cosmos to futility, not man's sin. I think the butterfly effect is a weak argument, but unless it can be ruled out as a possibility, the argument from the problem of evil is unsound. Or at least the deductive problem of evil is unsound, which is the one I've been addressing. But like I said in the previous email, there have been different version of the problem of evil by more contemporary philosophers, and I said I would go through those as well as the more contemporary theistic responses to the problem of evil. I just haven't got to those yet.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Is free will a good thing?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Angie on evil and freedom


I probably shouldn't have said "I know exactly what most Christians would say in response to it." What I meant is more like, "I've heard (over and over and over) a particular set of arguments that many Christians use." And, yes, the explanation that you just gave fits into that group.

The problem of evil argument is not exactly what I was talking about. It's more simplistic than what I was thinking (at least, I think it is... :) And, I've never thought that God can exist only in the absence of evil. That wouldn't make him very godlike, would it?

To me, the issue is more about God's character. I cannot reconcile what the Bible says about who God is with the world that I live in. Even factoring in his various attributes and roles - Mighty, Righteous, Holy, Merciful, Compassionate; Judge, King, Creator, Father, etc. - I do not find that his allowing such evil can be consistent with his nature or character.

Regarding the butterfly effect -- that's pretty much the explanation that I've heard before. Basically, it says that the whole earth reaps the effects of the sins of humanity. People often cite Romans 8:19-22 in support of this argument:

"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."

I can kind of see why they use that scripture for that argument, but it seems to do more harm than good, since it says that God subjected creation to futility. It doesn't say that creation was subjected to futility because of man's sin.

So… do you know any other responses to this argument?

Finally a little comment about all that you were saying about free will. It all made sense and sounded reasonable and logical. However, I feel like this argument is solely based on humanity's history and experience. We try to put everything all together to make sense of why/how we have a will and why/how evil exists, and why/how we can choose to do evil. But if God exists, and God created us, there really is no reason that he had to create us this way, unless he finds some entertainment or fulfillment in or through the conflict. He could have made us without any free will; we would not have known the difference. Is this making sense? I feel like it isn't


Conversations with Angie:  Angie vs problem of evil, and Romans vs the butterfly effect