Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Some Minor Theodicies," "Conclusion," and "Appendix"


In this final section of Dr. Martin’s book he critiques some lesser advocated theodicies, concludes his entire argument, and offers an appendix. I really enjoyed this final section and gleaned a lot of good insights from it. Overall, I have been satisfied with the way that this endeavor has turned out and I am confident that I have shown Martin’s case, while he has made some strong points that should be addressed by theists, is not sufficient to destroy the rational foundations for theism. I hope those of you who have had the patience to bear with me through this long series have been edified.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin’s final chapter of his argument for positive atheism continues and completes his section based on the problem of evil. Since he has already evaluated the strongest theistic positions, he chooses to at least make mention and critique of some lesser known theodicies. He states that these are less compelling and usually used by those who are not theologians or philosophers of religion.

He begins with the "Finite God Theodicy." As an example of this, Martin presents Rabbi Kushner’s position that God is not all powerful and, thus, cannot prevent all evil. Kushner believes that some evil is the result of chaos that God has been trying to get in order; other evils are the result of natural law. Martin critiques Kushner’s finite view by pointing out that: (1) Kushner has given no examples of evils resulting from uncaused events; (2) there is no evidence that some natural laws are newer than others, which would be the case if God was getting the chaos in order; (3) Kushner doesn’t explain why a god powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil; and (4) Kushner doesn’t explain why God doesn’t help some people. In response to four, Martin notes, some argue that God is preoccupied with preventing greater evils. But he answers that, if God could create the entire universe simultaneously, then why can’t he attend to all parts of it simultaneously.

Next, Martin assesses "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." This attempt to answer the problem of evil claims that the evil in this world is necessary since this is the best of all possible worlds. Martin offers two primary challenges to this answer. First, he says, it is improbable that this world could not be made better. Second, the notion of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent. In support of this second criticism, Martin offers arguments from Alvin Plantinga and Patrick Grim. Alvin Plantinga relates such a concept as "the best of all possible worlds" to "the greatest number." It seems to him that whatever object you conceive of can be upped one. Thus the concept is incoherent. Grim, on the other hand, claims that all possible worlds are equally good. He says that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. Now, if Grim is right, then there are many difficult implications—e.g., (1) this world would be as perfect as God Himself; (2) ethical fatalism; (3) counterfactual problems. Thus this theodicy also fails.

The next theodicy that Martin looks at is the "Original Sin Theodicy." This is the Judeo-Christian answer regarding the fall from grace (Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden). Martin objects to it saying that: (1) science shows that death and disaster came before human sin; (2) it is unjust, since to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins is unjust; and (3) it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin. This amounts to creating evil ex nihilo.

The fourth theodicy offered by Martin is the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." This answer claims that what seems like evil is not really evil from God’s perspective; or it is evil but has good consequences and, thus, it is justified. Martin offers four criticisms of this view: (1) if evil is an illusion, then moral fatalism results; (2) It seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. Then how can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us? (3) If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price? And (4) Heaven as a compensation for suffering cannot solve the problem since compensation doesn’t make the action right.

Finally, Martin offers four lesser known theodicies. The first is "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy." This is a complex theodicy that I will not explain here. The second is the "Reincarnation Theodicy. He offers four criticisms to this view: (1) the implications are absurd and morally appalling; (2) it is morally empty; (3) it contradicts the scientific discovery that life began a finite time ago; and (4) it still doesn’t explain why God allowed the evil in the first place. Next Martin presents the "Contrast Theodicy," which claims that evil is allowed to make the good more appreciable. Martin offers two criticisms: (1) why then is it experienced rather than simply seen? And (2) this doesn’t explain the extent of evil. Finally, Martin offers the "Warning Theodicy," which is a proposed solution to the problem of natural evil that views pain and disaster as warnings. To this solution, he asks "couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?"

Next, Martin moves on to his Conclusion. Here, he gives a short summary of what he has claimed and then proceeds to expound what he believes would happen if disbelief in God became prevalent. He says that if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. He also says that people would still join religious groups for the social benefit or aesthetic value. Further, it is conceivable that religious freedom could still reign. He then gives a list of things that would change, including: (1) the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change; (2) there would be fewer wars; and (3) the birthrate would drop. He concludes with his belief that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental.

Lastly, Martin gives us an Appendix where he makes distinctions between positive and negative, broad and narrow, and atheism and alienated theism. Then he gives the differences between atheism and agnosticism, skepticism, naturalism, rationalism, positivism, humanism, communism, the Freethought Movement, and the Ethical Culture Movement.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I had many agreements and appreciations for this section of Martin’s book. First, I agree with Martin’s overall assessment of the "Finite God Theodicy," though there are a couple points of disagreement that I will note in my critique. Second, I agree with Martin’s rejection of the "Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy," and I have only one disagreement which I will mention later. Third, I will grant Martin’s critique of "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy," and will add that I reject the idea that God is obligated to any creatures. I don’t think this is so regardless of their degree of desirability. Fourth, I agree with each point of the "Reincarnation Theodicy." Fifth, regarding the "Contrast Theodicy," I agree with Martin. I will add that a contrast is not needed if one realizes that evil is not a thing to be compared but a privation. On this understanding, the "Contrast Theodicy" would seem to be saying that it is easier to appreciate an imperfect thing than a perfect thing, which seems silly. Sixth, I think that Martin’s Appendix was extremely helpful and should be read by all theists and atheists alike.


Now for my final critique. First, I have two criticisms from Martin’s critique of Kushner. (1) Martin complains that Kushner doesn’t explain why a God powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil. But I would like to ask Martin: "Why should God be obligated to do this?" If He wouldn’t be, then there is no problem. If He would be, then Martin needs to show how. (2) Martin then faults Kushner’s God for not helping some people. But how does Martin know that He doesn’t? Second, I have a single critique from the section on "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." Martin quotes Patrick Grim who claims that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. But this assumes that God is a moral being. Further, it seems to be ambiguous as to what is meant by "possible." A distinction between "logically possible" and "actually possible" needs to be made to clarify what he is saying.

My most extensive critique relates to Martin’s criticism of the "Original Sin Theodicy," which I wholly disagreed with. First, Martin claims that science shows that death and disaster came before human sin. But I ask, "Death and disaster of what?" There is no science that says that human death came before human sin. And since humans are the only known moral creatures, then there is no problem with the kind of death that occurred beforehand. Further, there is no evidence that disaster had any affect on humans who did not sin. Thus this argument fails. Second, Martin claims that it is unjust to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins. But this is implying that God is actively punishing His creation. This is false. What He has done is allow the human race to choose to live outside of His grace. The blame is not on God in any way, but on humanity. Furthermore, He has not been content to just let things be, but He has made a way back into His grace, through Jesus Christ. So not only is God not responsible for the effects of humanity’s choice to separate itself from Him, but He has gracefully given us a way back if we admit our fault. Third, Martin claims that it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin since this amounts to evil being created ex nihilo. But this is a confused concept of evil. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a privation in a good thing. Thus evil can exist only in virtue of a good thing existing.

Next, I have a few criticisms of the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." First, one of Martin’s criticisms was that it seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. So he asks, "How can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us?" I answer that God doesn’t have a morality. He is worshipped in virtue of His ontology, i.e., what He is. Finally, He is not a moral guidance for us. He is the lawmaker, not its greatest keeper. Second, Martin asks "If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price?" But these arguments presume that the accuser knows more than God. If God is all knowing and all powerful, He has taken all possibilities into account and there is nothing to question here. Third, Martin critiques the picture of Heaven as a compensation for suffering since compensation doesn’t make the affliction right. But Heaven is not compensation, it is a gift. Further, God doesn’t inflict the evils, He allows them.

Next, I have a couple of criticisms regarding Martin’s handling of the "Warning Theodicy." Martin asks, "Couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?" Maybe this would not be effective. Pain makes the warning existentially relevant. Other messages, due to our limitations, may not appear as relevant. Overall, the other criticisms offered in this section by Martin are unfounded because they assume that God has an obligation to warn people in a better way. In fact, God has no obligation to warn us in the first place. It is an act of grace when He does.

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s conclusion. First, Martin claims that, if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. But they would if people lived consistently with their beliefs. I know that I would act way differently if I believed that God did not exist. I would act as I did before I became a Christian, if not worse. Second, Martin claims that the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change. I say that if people were consistent, moral education and legislation would end. Third, Martin claims that there would be fewer wars. But contrary to the popular assumption, most wars have no religious significance. They are political and economic in nature. Further, this assumes that religious beliefs are not active deterrents to war. This assumption needs to be demonstrated. Finally, Martin says that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental. I would add to this that they are likely due to the fact that the arguments of this book are insufficient for demonstrating that God does not exist. In fact, in light of the criticisms raised here, I think that it is safe to say that theism remains the most rationally defensible position.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Natural Evil" and "The Soul-Making Theodicy"

CHAPTERS 16 and 17

In Chapters 16 and 17, Dr. Martin continues with his considerations about the fact of evil and its relation to the viability of belief in God. In the last chapter he began his appraisal of the common theistic attempts to explain the existence of evil by evaluating the Free Will Defense. In Chapter 16, Martin looks at the existence of natural evils and in Chapter 17 he evaluates the "soul Making Theodicy," or the attempt to explain natural evils as being necessary for developing certain desirable character traits.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

In Chapter 16, Martin assesses natural evil, or evil not associated with the free choice and intentions of human beings. He notes that most of the evil of the world is of this kind. It is Martin’s belief that theism cannot account for such evils and, thus, their existence counts as evidence for atheism. To defend this position, he looks at three contemporary theists’ attempts to solve the dilemma.

First, Martin looks at Alvin Plantinga’s claim that natural evil could be the result of the acts of evil beings such as Satan. Note that Dr. Plantinga does not argue that Satan exists, but that it is not improbable that Satan exists and that, because of this, it is a real possibility that he is the reason for natural evil. Martin begins his criticism by pointing out that, while it may not be impossible that Satan exists, that it is not obvious how probable such a claim really is. He answers his apparently rhetorical question by asserting that it is unlikely that consciousness could actually exist in a non-bodily form. Next, he claims that there is no reason to even believe that demons or angels could affect the physical world. After this, he grants the claim and then asks "if Satan is responsible for this evil, why isn’t there more of it?" After this momentary granting of the argument, he returns to his position and notes that even theists, such as Swinburne, believe that such an argument is ad hoc. He proceeds by pointing out that those who believe in Satan tend to be less educated than those who do not believe in him and that science has been more accurate about religious things than the religions have (i.e. age of earth and evolution). Finally, he asks, "if Satan is responsible, why wouldn’t God help the innocent victims?"

Next, Dr. Martin looks at an argument proposed by Richard Swinburne. Swinburne proposes that the amount of evil is the real problem. But this, he says, can be explained by claiming that the amount of evil in the world is necessary to bring about the knowledge (since data is required for knowledge) needed to cause or prevent future evils. And, this would add to the moral freedom and potential for responsibility in people, which are both goods. Martin answers that, if this is His purpose, God has not done a good job. He supports this by pointing to: (1) the existence of rare diseases; (2) the fact that, for some diseases, we have all the necessary information about and, yet, they continue to affect us; (3) the fact that God could have created us with innate knowledge rather than leaving us as suffering tabula rasas; and (4) the notion that inflicting evil without the innocent victim’s consent is repugnant.

Next, Dr. Martin looks at Bruce Reichenbach’s proposed solution. Reichenbach claims that natural evil is the outworking of the natural laws of God’s creation. And these natural laws help humans to be truly free in their choices since, without such order, rational choice would be impossible. Martin answers by proposing that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly and, thus, the out-workings of these natural laws are not necessary to preserve rationality. Nonetheless, even if He did set the world up in this way, He could have performed miracles to prevent the natural evils from harming people. Further, God could have created the world to operate by statistical laws instead.

In Chapter 17, Martin assesses the theistic answer that naturalistic evil exists in order to develop the character of human beings. He begins by noting that theists often claim that second order goods such as kindness and courage could only be actuated give some first order evils. However, Dr, Martin claims that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils.

He then proceeds to critique what he believes to be the strongest presentation of the "Soul-Making" theodicy, that of John Hick. Hick claims that God has created the world in such a way as to hide His appearance. The result of this is that men live self-centered lives. This also, however, makes available the opportunity for a man to freely worship God. Hick does not have an explanation for the amount of evil but he does offer the idea of an intermediate state that makes right those wrongs that seemed to occur without any possibility for character growth (such as a person being murdered).

Martin begins his critique of Hick by pointing out that excessive evil remains a problem. He continues how some organisms have the desire for avoidance of danger "built in," with no need for pain. Next, he points out that Hick’s idea of epistemic distance is ambiguous and that it can not give a reason for change of belief regarding God, hence it ultimately results in fideism. Next, Martin says that Hick does not justify his claim that man, if in God’s presence, could not sin. He supports this by showing that, if this were true, then all religious believers who had "experienced God" would stop sinning. But they don’t. After this, he shows how the purpose for epistemic distance, freedom to believe as one wishes, is compromised by Hick’s intermediate state. Then he critiques Hick’s notion of freedom since there is a logically possible world where creatures are free and yet do not sin. Finally, he claims that Hick, by writing this book, seems to be working against the distance desired by God.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As with the other chapters in this second part of Atheism, there were not many opportunities for agreement with Martin. However, I do think that he brought up a few very good points. First, overall, I agree that blaming Satan for natural evil is not the best way to approach the problem of natural evil. But I say this because there are other ways to attack it, not because I have a prior assumption against the existence of such beings. Second, I agree with most of the criticisms leveled at Swinburne, except for the innocent victim one. (Swinburne offers three reasons to doubt it, the second of which—that God as creator has rights over us—being the strongest. Martin’s counter to this is rather weak.) Third, I agree that Hick’s notion of epistemic distance seems to be ambiguous and leads to fideism, that is, as far as it has been accurately presented. Fourth, regarding the criticism of the intermediate state, I believe that Dr. Martin has made a great point. I really appreciate this criticism’s strength. Finally, regarding the compatibility of Hick’s writing this book with his beliefs, I think Martin’s criticism is interesting, but I have a feeling that it may not be charitable.


Chapter 16

First, I have many criticisms regarding the section critiquing Dr. Plantinga. First, Martin challenges Plantinga regarding "how probable" Satan’s existence really is. I think that he is asking a question that cannot be answered by a finite mind since it would require applying probability values to events without knowing all the relevant data. Thus, this is no defeater of Plantinga. Second, he claimed that it is unlikely that consciousness could exist in a non-bodily form. Well, this was a nice assertion, but he has not supported it. Beware of such moves by any philosopher or theologian. Third, Martin asks why Satan hasn’t produced more evil if he is the reason for it. But why should there be more? If Satan is free, why can’t he choose where to stop? Need he be as evil as can be? These questions all demonstrate that these responses by Martin do not actually prove anything except that he is inquisitive. Fourth, his claim that theists are less intelligent than naturalists is irrelevant at best and an ad hominen or a grouping fallacy at worst. Further, claiming that people like Plantinga, Swinburne, Bill Craig, J.P. Moreland, Etienne Gilson, Eleonore Stump, etc. are uneducated is a very brave, yet na├»ve claim. Fifth, the idea that science has been more accurate about religious things confuses the teachings of a religion with the teachings of the religious people. Regarding the age of the earth, there is no clear scriptural claim for young or old—only interpretations by people. Second, evolution has not been proven by any stretch; though it has been made an axiom by many. Sixth, and finally, Martin’s question as to why God hasn’t helped the innocent victims assumes that God doesn’t have reasons unknown to us. We are finite minds, He is not. There is nothing about God that requires that He helps all victims of particular tragedies.

Next, regarding Martin’s criticisms of Reichenbach, I have a couple criticisms of my own. First Martin claimed that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly. But this doesn’t help us to know things, unless the miracles appear to be results of natural processes and, thus, they deceive us. But this wouldn’t be real knowledge. In the end, we could only have hindsight knowledge, not the power to judge potential outcomes required for free choice. So Martin doesn’t answer the original problem. Second, God has no obligation to always do miracles to prevent evil. Further, it may better for us that he doesn’t. Third, regarding the appeal for statistical laws, there is no reason to suppose that this would be better. God, being omniscient, is perfectly capable of judging which world suits his purposes, we are not.

Overall, I would say that the biggest problem with the critiques submitted in this chapter is that they assume that there are no good reasons for allowing natural calamities. We know that there are natural advantages brought by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like. Thus, these events, taken of themselves, are good events. The fact that they sometimes result in human loss does not make the event evil as much as it highlights a bad relationship between two events—the human’s current state and nature’s current state. There is no reason to suppose that allowing the convergence of such states is necessarily an evil act. Thus, the ’evilness’ of the act must be derived from some other factor other than the simple occurrence of the convergence of events. Furthermore, I think that the language used to describe these events is unjustified for the naturalist. What is an evil? For them, such an event can only be an observed fact. There is no room for moral outrage or a claim that the event ’ought’ to have been other than it was. ’Ought’ implies design or order, which implies a designer or orderer. Thus the atheistic argument can never really get off the ground. So, while we theists may not be able to give a surefire answer to the question "why this evil?" the atheist cannot even ask the question in the first place without presupposing God.

Chapter 17

I only have a few criticisms of this chapter, but they seem to undermine Martin’s whole argument. First, Martin asserted that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils. How? First, it would be impossible to be unkind if there were no evil possible, so kindness loses its value. Generosity can only be had where need is present. But wouldn’t a need be considered a privation, i.e. an evil? Sympathy likewise implies loss, which would also be considered as an evil. Finally, bravery would require a true danger, i.e. an evil. Otherwise, it is not bravery but confidence. He attempts to give numerous examples of how he can have these goods without evil, but they all fail. Second, the problems stated in the section on Hick’s theodicy are similar to those addressed elsewhere. Martin’s main problems here are that he presumes to know what God could actually (beyond logically) accomplish and what he should have allowed. Martin needs to face the fact that he is limited as to the information available to him and that such judgments may in fact be unfounded. Third, regarding Martin’s claim that those who have experienced God would have stopped sinning, I believe that Hick sufficiently answers him. I think that Hick’s distinction between a continuous experience and a momentary one solves this problem. By our nature as humans, we know things in a temporal fashion. Thus, when something is not on our mind, it is not going to have its full effect on us. With God, since He is the ultimate good, if we had Him, we would seek nothing else. To willingly go after a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is impossible. Finally, regarding Dr. Martin’s claim that a world where everyone is free and yet no one sins is logically possible, I agree. This world is called heaven. But it may not have been actually possible to achieve such a world without a world such as this

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Free-Will Defense"


Chapter Fifteen builds off of the argument from evil against the existence of God that Dr. Martin began in the previous chapter. Theists have made many attempts to counter the Argument from Evil, and Martin, aware of this, will devote his final section of his book to answering them. In this Chapter, he attempts to combat the most popular defense, that evil is the result of human free will.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin starts this chapter by noting that the Free Will Defense is an explanation of moral evils, not natural evils. He correctly states the theist’s argument as "God gave humans free choice and a world with free choice is more desirable than a world without free choice." He then proceeds to give some background information to this debate. This information included distinctions between First, Second, and Third Order Goods as well as First and Second Order Evils. After this preliminary info, Martin began his explanation and critique of the theistic position.

Martin claims that there are three assumptions to the theistic position that are challengeable and that he believes he will show to be false. These are: (1) that free will is a very important good; (2) that free will is worth the price that it comes with; and (3) that the evils that result from free will cannot be blamed on God.

First, Martin claims that the assumption of the importance of freedom is false. He begins by assessing Alvin Plantinga’s claim that, all other things being equal, a world with ’significantly free creatures’ is more valuable than a world with no free creatures. Martin asserts that this argument is irrelevant since "all things are not equal." Thus, he offers a reformulation of the argument that he believes captures Plantinga’s desire. He then goes on to reject these because they seem to assume that the value of freedom is nearly infinite. He notes that it is true that freedom seems very valuable initially. But, we sometimes think that it can be sacrificed for other values and thus Plantinga’s assumption is unfounded. Next, Martin looks at Plantinga’s rejection of compatibilist and causal determination views and calls his (Plantinga’s) position Contracausal Freedom. Then Martin critiques this position claiming that: (1) there is no practical use for Contracausal Freedom; and (2) that a Contracausal world is not the best that God could have created.

After this, Martin considers what he believes to be defeaters for a Contracausal view of freedom. First, he offers the fact that social scientists predict behavior, presents a rebuttal by Plantinga, and critiques it. Second, he claims that the difference in the choices of apes, mentally retarded people, and otherwise healthy human beings is a difference in degree, not in kind. Third, he claims that a distinction, that free acts are caused, but not coerced, will help to support his position. Fourth, he claims that if Contracausal Freedom is correct, then there are uncaused causes. He notes that this led to many great theologians accepting a compatibilist position. Finally, he claims that Plantinga has offered no solution to the claim that uncaused events are random. In support of his position, that free acts are caused but not coerced, Martin offers a possibility. He says that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choices are controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. After presenting his argument, He critiques a potential defeater from Reichenbach.

In the next section, Martin presents reasons he thinks that we should doubt that freedom was "worth the risk." First, he claims that it is logically possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. In support of this, he critiques a counter offered by some who maintain that a world with no wrong done (though it is possible) may not be better than this one. Second, he claims that if God were omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. In support of this he critiques an argument of Plantinga’s the argument of Trans-World Depravity. Then, Martin points out that some, such as Bruce Reichenbach have said that God does not know if counterfactuals would be true or false. This, according to Martin, would result in the impossibility that God could know any future free act, including any of His own acts. He points out that it would also undermine morality, unless one accepts an extreme deontological view.

In the final section, Martin attempts to show that God would ultimately be responsible for the evil acts of creatures under any possible view. In defense of this he offers Frederic Fitch’s theorem along with an amendment by J.L. Mackie. He then presents a legal case and a moral case against God. Finally, he argues that God is no Good Samaritan.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As with the other chapters in this section, there was not a lot for me to agree with. However, I did appreciate a few things that Martin mentioned. First, I love the opening section and the explanation of the ordered goods and evils. I have never heard the theistic position broke down that way (I have not read much on the problem of evil, I am primarily interested in the proofs). I thought that the introduction to this chapter was his best yet. Second, I am glad that he noted that the great theologians were compatibilists, but he is equivocating on Compatibilism, which I will explain in my critique. Third, I totally agree with Martin that the idea that "a world with no wrong done (though where it is possible) may not be better than this one" is a highly unlikely idea. Fourth, I will grant Martin’s critique of Plantinga, though I admit that I am doing so because I do not know Plantinga’s full position. Sixth, I agree with Martin’s critique of Reichenbach’s answer to the critique of Plantinga, but I think that a middle ground exists between Plantinga and Reichenbach that sufficiently answers the criticism. I will discuss this briefly in the next section. Finally, I agree with Martin that God is responsible for the fact of evil, but I do not see this as a problem. Again, this will be elaborated in the next section.


I have many criticisms regarding Martin’s assessment that freedom is not important. First, he claims that Contracausal Freedom has no practical benefits. But this is just false. Ethical living is only possible with true freedom. Without true freedom, there becomes no justification for incarceration, condemnation, or any other related actions. Second, all the ’better’ talk used by Martin when comparing worlds assumes some standard of goodness. But this cannot be appealed to by the naturalist. At best, the naturalist can only describe reality; he cannot prescribe how it ’ought to be.’ Martin is borrowing from theism to make his critique.

In the next section Martin gives a few reasons to reject Contracausal Freedom. The first reason is that social scientists can predict behavior. However, this does not prove natural causation. It only demonstrates that certain conditions increase the likelihood of certain choices. It is still the case that many times the social scientists will predict wrongly. It seems that Martin’s critique assumes an identity between an increase in tendency and causality. However, it seems that causality is more appropriately equated with natural necessity for the naturalist. I don’t think tendency helps his argument. Second, Martin claimed that the difference between ape and human freedom is one of degree, not kind. But this is just false. There is no evidence that apes or any other animals are really free. They have to be trained to make choices that are contrary to their natural tendencies. Third, regarding his claim that ’free acts are caused, but not coerced,’ I don’t think that he has such an option. I would like to see a further explanation. Fourth, he criticizes Contracausal Freedom claiming that it results in the admission of uncaused causes, and explains that this is why the great theologians were compatibilists. But the free acts are caused - by created efficient causes. He is correct that the great theologians were compatibilists, but they are in a theological sense referring to God’s causality, not according to the order of the natural world. It seems to me that Compatibilism only makes sense when two minds are involved, not when nature is on one end of the equation. Finally, Martin claims that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choice is controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. But this does not even make sense. First of all, statistics are not laws; they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Second, if any series of events were always seen in the same relation to one another, we would have reason to believe that the consequent event was causally determined.

In the next section, Martin discusses whether or not free will was "worth the risk." As with the previous section I have many criticisms here. First, Martin claims that it is possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. But how does he know this? If one makes the distinction between something being logically possible and something being actually possible, I think that the burden shifts to Martin to demonstrate this claim, which he doesn’t do. Second, Martin claims that if God was omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. Omnipotence is being able to do whatever can be done. But to presume that God could have created a world where all the free creatures always acted rightly begs the whole question. Hence, we do not necessarily have any problem. Again, the atheist would have to demonstrate that such a world is actually, not merely logically, achievable in order for theists to defend their position against this claim. All that being said, Christianity does claim that the result of this world will be such a world where free creatures always do the good anyway. That world is heaven. It may just be the case that this kind of world is the only way to achieve that kind of world. Third, regarding the critique Martin has of Plantinga, I avoid this criticism by rejecting as meaningful such modal criticisms since they are based on pure speculation. I am interested in the world as it is, not as I suppose it could be. I am a finite mind and, thus, I do not have access to all the information necessary to have in order to know what could be and what couldn’t be. As far as I can tell, neither Plantinga nor Martin is omniscient either, thus disqualifying them from such considerations too. Fourth, regarding the criticism of Reichenbach, remember that I agreed with Martin’s conclusion. I think that Reichenbach went too far. However, I think that such an issue is solved by admitting the truth values for counterfactuals to those beings that have all knowledge. Doing so preserves God’s omniscience and the truth values of counterfactuals while at the same time pointing out that it is not profitable for finite minds to make arbitrary guesses about important issues via ’counterfactual knowledge.’

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s case that God is responsible for evil. First, regarding Fitch’s Theorem, I think it is unfounded to attribute that which is logically possible for creatures, i.e. to do evil, to God. It does not follow that God can do everything that creatures can do since they are efficient causes. Regarding Mackie’s addition, it is not clear why these distinctions disappear. More needs to be said. Second, in response to the legal case against God, I agreed that God is clearly responsible for the fact of evil. But so what? He doesn’t have an authority or a moral law over Him. Further, He is free to act in accordance with His nature. Since we know God to be the all-knowing, ultimate Good, then we can trust that the results of His actions will be ultimately good. However, the responsibility for the acts of evil need not be attributed to God since they are committed by created efficient causes. Third, in response to the moral case against God, this argument doesn’t consider the good that results from evil. Finally, in response to the charge that God is not a Good Samaritan, this assumes that we have all the information that God has and are in a position to judge Him. We are not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

'Teleological Atheism' and 'Arguments from Evil'

CHAPTERS 13 and 14

In Chapter Thirteen, Dr. Martin gives what he believes to be positive teleological evidence for the non-existence of God. In Chapter Fourteen, Martin offers what he believes is positive evidence for the non-existence of God based on an induction from the existence of evil. Because of the nature of these arguments, my agreements section will be very short and my criticisms will be quite extensive. Please believe me when I say that I made a strong effort to find more to agree with, but it just wasn't happening. One more thing to note, the argument from evil will basically carry over into the last three weeks of my critique of 'Atheism,' as Martin has devoted the last four chapters to assessing the popular theodicies argued by theists. Therefore, if my critique seems to be lacking some important points, don't worry. I am addressing the issues as they come. I am sure that all the relevant arguments that are needed to critique Martin will be utilized.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins Chapter Thirteen by reminding the readers that the teleological arguments for God's existence have all been shown to be unsound. I would like to remind my readers that I have demonstrated this to be false in my critique of Chapter Five. While Martin did a good job of critiquing most of the arguments, his argument against Paley did not sufficiently succeed. Normally, I would leave such a criticism to my critique section, but I wanted to point this out up front.

He proceeds to offer an argument by Salmon that he calls the 'Calculated Improbability of Design.' This argument basically asserts that since most of the things that we know of in the universe (planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules) are not the result of intelligence, then it follows that it is more likely that there was not an intelligent designer. Martin offers an interlocutor for Salmon in Cartwright who says that Salmon begs the question in stating that planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules are not the result of intelligence. In reply, Salmon appeals to scientific findings including thermodynamics and quantum mechanics as justification for such a premise. Martin agreed that Salmon did not beg the question and claims that, at worst, Salmon used unjustified premises. But since he supported these with science, the criticism doesn't work.

After this, Martin expands on the argument by stating that: given the nature of the universe and the supposed nature of God, we must reject that the two go together based on the non-relation of our experience to the claim. He offers many examples of such incompatibility. First, he appeals to The Argument from Embodiedness. This argument states that all created entities of our experience were created by beings with bodies, so we should infer that the universe, if created, would have been created by an embodied being. Martin claims that it does not beg the question and can be supported by scientific evidence. Next, he appeals to The Argument from Multiple Creators. This argument states that all large and complex entities that we know were created by a multitude, and thus infers that the universe would be no different, if created. Martin claims that the criticisms to this argument and the answers to them are similar to those above. Third, Martin offers The Argument from Apparent Fallibility. This argument states that there are mistakes and errors in the universe, and based on our experience, mistakes and errors in a creation always result from the fallibility of the creator. Thus we should infer that the universe, if created, was created by a fallible creator. As evidence for this claim, he points to functionless organs and genetic deficiencies. Fourth, Martin offers The Argument from Finiteness. This argument states that all created things that we know of were created by a finite power; therefore we should infer that the universe, if created, was also created by a finite power. He follows with the claim that the same objections can be raised and dismissed as in the previous arguments. Fifth, Martin offers The Argument from Pre-Existing Material. This argument states that all created things that we know were created out of pre-existing material; thus if the universe were created, we should infer that it was created out of preexisting material. Again, he claims that the same objections can be raised and dismissed as in the previous arguments. Finally, Martin offers his argument that the universe is not a created object. His argument can be stated as:

P-1: All created things have noticeable markings left from the machines that make them.
P-2: The universe does not have the markings necessary.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe was not created.

In Chapter Fourteen, Martin presents his argument for atheism from the existence of evil. He begins by noting that the most popular deductive form of this argument (stated below) is unsuccessful:

P-1: If God is all powerful, He could prevent evil.
P-2: If God is all knowing, He would know how to prevent evil.
P-3: If God is all good, He would prevent evil.
P-4: But evil was not prevented.
Conclusion: Therefore, God cannot exist.

However, Martin believes that inductive arguments against God from evil are possible and offers two of them. First, he offers a direct inductive argument. This argument offers no refutations of theodicies but rather works simply from the fact of human and animal suffering. It can be stated as follows:

P-1: There exist evils that, if they had been prevented, the world would have been a better place.
P-2: An all good being would have prevented any preventable thing that would result in a worse world.
Conclusion: Therefore, such a being does not exist.

Next, Martin offers an indirect argument for the same purpose. This argument states that no theodicy has successfully given a sufficient moral reason for God to allow gratuitous evils. He will defend this assertion in the following chapters apparently, so here he just offers the implications. He offers and critiques one counterargument, namely that evil exists necessarily. He then states that Naturalism can answer the problem of evil by appealing to natural laws. Finally, Martin addresses some popular criticisms of these inductive-style arguments. In this section, Martin critiques Alvin Plantinga's and Bruce Reichenbach's criticisms of the Probabilistic Arguments from Evil.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As I noted earlier, there was very little for me to agree with in these two chapters. But I will try to give a few things. First, I have learned from Dr. Martin to be very careful of which fallacy that you are attributing to an author. I think he was correct where he noted that some counterarguments were wrong in claiming that a claim begged the question and that a better criticism would be that he lacked sufficient warrant for a premise. He helped me to catch myself doing this. So thank you Dr. Martin. Second, I agree with Martin that the deductive argument from evil for atheism is unsound. Third, I agree with Martin that demonstrating that the world would have been a better place granted some change is a difficult task to say the least. However, he thinks that the difficulty is surmountable where I reject that it is short of being omniscient. Fourth, I think that Martin correctly notes that the indirect argument from evil would not cancel out any positive argument for God. Of course I disagree with his conclusion that there is no such argument, and have demonstrated that his criticisms of the traditional cosmological and teleological arguments fail. Fifth, I agree that the argument claiming that evil exists necessarily is indefensible. Finally, I will accept the rejections of Plantinga and Reichenbach since I reject the whole process of assigning arbitrary probabilities to Bayes Theorem expecting to get objective conclusions.


Chapter 13

First, regarding Salmon's argument, while he may not be 'begging the question,' he definitely is unjustified in holding the premises that planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules are not the result of intelligence, that the order found in mechanical causation and biological generation is not the result of intelligence, and that disembodied intelligence has not produced order in our experience. His appeal to thermodynamics and quantum physics does not help. Thermodynamics demonstrates a need for the beginning of time, and thus space and matter if Einstein was correct. Quantum mechanics is highly speculative and remains unproven. Even if particles in quantum experiments seem to 'come into existence' spontaneously, there is no reason to suppose that they could do so if there were no 'vacuum' present. Thermodynamics has the epistemic authority until quantum mechanics can be better supported.

Regarding the expansion of the argument I will critique each point. First, the Argument from Embodiedness can be disproven if we can show that matter had a beginning, as we have with the laws of Thermodynamics, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and the Cosmological Argument. Once these are proved, then a true experience of reality is an experience of an entity created by a disembodied being. Furthermore, there is nothing about being a created entity that requires being made by a being with a body. That the beings that we see make things have bodies is due to a limitation of their being, not due to necessity with regards to being in general. Second, the Argument from Multiple Creators is also disproven. Since time, space and matter had a beginning, there is no individuating principle that we know of by which multiple creators could even be possible. Therefore, our experience of reality actually supports a monotheistic view. Furthermore, there is nothing about being large and complex that demands multiple agents. The demand for multiple agents lies in the finitude of the creators. Third, the Argument from Apparent Fallibility fails since this critique presupposes omniscience. In order to recognize a flaw, you have to know what the creation would look like if it were ideal. But if they are rejecting the current one as real, then they would have to point to another one from their experience that was better. However, there is only one universe. Thus, the example would have to be a product of their mind. But in order for them to make such a judgment, they would have to know all factors involved in the universe so as to know that the thing that they considered to be a mistake really wasn't a good result of something else. Thus, they would be claiming omniscience. What is more, even if there were an imperfection, that fact would not prove that something was a mistake. The creator could have intended for something to be ontologically imperfect without any fault. So this argument as presented seems to be an utter failure. That being said, I think that the 'mistakes' offered are inconclusive anyway. Regarding functionless organs, at one time in the modern period, scientists thought that well over 100 organs (in humans) were vestigial. Today the number stands at six. And there is no reason to suppose that we will not find explanations for those someday. Regarding genetic deficiencies, the theistic account has an explanation for this. It is called sin. The creator did not create man deficient. Man inflicted it on himself. Fourth, the Argument from Finiteness fails as well. The first cause of the universe can not have any potential, since potential can only be put into (metaphysical, not physical) motion by act. Thus there is no power in the first cause that could be unactualized. Whatever is not true of this cause is not ever possible for it. Also, whatever power that it passes down must pre-exist in it. Therefore, there is no power known to man that is not owned by the first cause. Now, one may think that this means that the first cause could lie, cheat, etc. since these are powers. However, these are not powers but limitations in power. Fully actualized power to know things and relate to others necessarily leads to honesty and fairness. A deficiency leads to lies and cheating. Fifth, the Argument from Pre-Existing Material fails since it does not account for the actual evidence from our experience. We know, based on scientific and philosophical proof, that time, space, and matter began to exist. Thus there was no matter existing from which to form the universe. Finally, the argument that the universe was created assumes that the created markings are a necessary condition for being created. The fact that physical objects are used by finite creators is due to their finiteness (i.e. their physicality), not due to the objects having been created. An infinite non-corporeal being would not need such tools. And I have already pointed out that the evidence shows that such a being exists.

Chapter 14

First, regarding the direct inductive argument from evil, I would like to again point out that the author admits the difficulty in being able to know that premise one is true. We would say that it is not and that one would have to be omniscient to make such judgments. Therefore, any claim to this effect is presumptuous. Further, there seems to be no moral obligation on God to make sure that His creatures understand His ways. Neither does there seem to be a moral obligation on His part to create the best possible world. Even more, there does not seem to be any reason that He should not allow suffering. This whole argument is built on faulty presuppositions. Finally, for the Christian, this problem is addressed in the Book of Job. (A professor of mine had a profound insight by noticing that God's answer to Job was basically, 'You are being inconsistent. Why don't you question my motives where I bless you and the whole creation?')

Regarding the indirect inductive argument from evil, I will just remind you that Martin admits that a positive proof for God's existence cancels out this claim. Since I have defended such proofs, the argument is null.

Regarding the claim that naturalism can account for evil, I would like to note that Martin's argument is tantamount to taking our argument, 'God knows what He is doing and has an unknown (to us) reason for it,' and applying it to nature, 'Nature knows what it is doing and has an unknown (to us) reason for it.' His doing this demonstrates that the problem is not limited to the theist. In fact, the problem is greater for the atheist. How can the atheist even call something evil or deficient? Atheism does not have available to it a category for 'oughtness.' It only has a category for 'is-ness.' They only have room for descriptions, not prescriptions. C.S. Lewis was right in noting that arguing from evil presupposes an ultimate standard and prescriber of moral goodness.