"Case Against Faith" Response, Part I.
Original Article: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_doland/strobel.html
This will probably be among one of my last threads here... I believe that I have found that which I came here to discover-- just have some loose ends to tie up. I appreciate all of you who helped me with my learning, it's definitly been an experience. So, here is my response to the Case Against Faith.
Granted, I am speaking from my own perspective, not from someone else's. I have been, what you might call a 'skeptic' for as long as I can remember, and it is in asking questions that I realized the point of making choices. The objective facts are the same for most everyone, what you choose to do with them.. is a different issue.
A few definitions before I start, feel free to cross reference them with the dictionary. Make sure to cross reference those words within the definition which might be important to understanding the first. So, here we go. I state these, because.. well-- if we all have our own definitions, that might be kind of hard. So I'll be using the language as prescribed by the dictionary. No descriptive linguistics here! (Maybe some).
Reason: 1) Basis for a belief
2) Statement given as justification
3) Sound Judgement; Good sense
Rational: 1) Having or exercising reason, sound judgement, or good sense
Irrational: 1) Not in accordance with reason; utterly illogical
Logic: 1) A particular method of reasoning
2) The system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study
Evidence: 1) Grounds for a belief
2) That which tends to prove or disprove something
Tends: 1) To move or extend in a certain direction
Prove: 1) To establish the truth or genuineness of
Semantics: 1) The study of meaning
Empirical: 1) Derived from or guided by experience or experiment
Necessary: 1) Being essential, indispensable, or requisite
Sufficient: 1) Adequate for the purpose; enough
Assumption: 1) Something taken for granted; a supposition
Assertion: 1) A positive statement or declaration, often without support or reason
Axiom: 1) Self evident truth that requires no proof
2) Logic, Mathematics: a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it
Fallacious: 1) Deceptive; misleading
2) Disappointing; delusive
3) Containing a fallacy
Fallacy: 1) A deceptive, misleading, or false notion
About the Author of "The Case Against Faith"
He seems very logical.
(What, you were expecting more? It was a well structured critique as well as fair in my view.)
He ask questions of the author and his interviewees. These questions appear to be valid for, in one way or another, the interviewee and the author just assume that all reading will accept just because they are given a response. Furthermore, some apparent, common sense, contradictions spawning from the statements that the book makes, are equally challenged. Both these methods of argument I consider valid, so I'm not going to be saying that they are not; I will address to all things I can. So, here I go, I will try to make my answers small, assertions simple, logic clean, and reason clear as I can. (Furthermore.. I will try summarize his arguments his quotes-- therefore I can address what I understand as the spirit of his argument). I do not necessarily write this response to give answers, merely ask more questions, that is.. after all, what I do many times. If you grow tired of not finding a straight answer to the original objection, for instance "Since Evil and Suffering Exist, A Loving God Cannot", then look at the end of each section.. there I will write my understanding of it, but I really feel as if my point by point response will give a more complete picture from which to understand my position. Whether representative of truth or not, this is a map of my reasoning at this point in my life.
Objection 1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, A Loving God Cannot
(Interview with Dr. Peter John Kreeft, Ph.D.)
In fact, Templeton says that suffering was a major reason why he turned away from the Christian faith, noting a photograph of an African woman holding her dead baby, who had died of starvation due to severe drought, in her arms. God allowed all of this suffering when all that the woman needed was a little rain. How can there be a loving God if He won't even send a little rain? (p. 14).
For one, Kreeft says that finite humans are not capable of understanding the plans and reasoning of an infinite God. Kreeft illustrates his point with an analogy:
Imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter who, out of sympathy, wants to liberate him. He tries to win the bear's confidence, but he can't do it, so he has to shoot the bear full of drugs. The bear, however, thinks this is an attack and the hunter is trying to kill him. He doesn't realize this is being done out of compassion (p. 32).
This accurately sums up the argument of Strobel: God knows better than us, we cannot comprehend why these things happen.
God may well know better than I, and what appears to me to be injustice could all be a part of a greater plan. I am imperfect, and cannot know that which a perfect God may know. However, Kreeft's argument that I cannot know what eventual good may come from some suffering is a fallacious "argument from ignorance."
Agreed. While his answer may be correct, this argument does little to advance the debate since the answer to a valid question is that the answer cannot be comprehended. If this answer were multiplied and given for every question, you might see where this sort of response would lead to.
The bottom line is that if I am like the bear of Kreeft's analogy, unable to see the greater good to come from apparent injustice, then God should not be surprised that I see apparent injustice as genuine injustice.
Granted. He should not be 'surprised'.
For there is no reason to assume that there is a greater good to come from injustice.
Granted as well. While I tread lightly on any assertion that there is "no reason" for any assumption, I will accept this assertion because I can think of no counterexample. If one sees something that seems like "injustice" they will not automatically assume that is, in fact, "justifiable".
It may sound like Strobel, Kreeft, and I are using this woman as a debate tool[...]But these are real issues being raised, and they need to be discussed.
To explain how suffering can lead to a greater good, Kreeft offers the analogy of when his daughter pricked herself and suffered a small amount of pain, but learned from it (p. 41)[...]A valid explanation for a little pain doesn't explain extensive, intense, and apparently gratuitous pain.
This might be where I would lay down my first contention. If I give an example:
A person asks me, "Look at all this death in Iraq. How can the U.S. be justified in such a war?"
I would answer, "The death in Europe during World War II was 100 fold, would you ask this same question of that war?"
What is valid for one instance of pain is not necessarily valid for another, yet, the element of truth (if accepted in the first explanation) can be applied to the second that being:
Pain or suffering, no matter to what extent, is not reason enough to assume that pain and suffering are not without reason or justification; even as the number of death, no matter to what extent, is not reason enough to assume that war is not without reason or justification in a particular case.
Why have I been fortunate, while so many others have not? Arguing that there must be no God because of the suffering in the world is sometimes called an "argument from outrage." But should one not be "outraged" at the injustice of the world?
Yet, even as you pointed out something earlier as fallacious, so this thing would be fallacious if its purpose is to win an argument. It does not make a logical conclusion, merely that makes the assertion that one should be outraged at such injustice. In this I agree, but if the purpose of it was to imply that there cannot be justification for something that "should cause outrage", then for that I cannot agree.
Moreover, the fact that the poorest often suffer the most is, to me, very significant. In a debate with William Lane Craig, Corey Washington develops the point:
Relatively speaking, people really didn't suffer.
The disgust I find at one individual dying in a horrible way and another individual dying in a horrible way is not magnified by their socio-economic standing. I realize you may be saying, "as a whole" opposed to individually, and if this is what you meant, I would agree. The fact that their are nations of so much excess that they seem to burst at the seems while there remains nations in our world that are as they are, is a problem that I think needs addressing.
I cannot say I have an answer to correct this state of affairs.. but some day, perhaps I can help in some significant manner.
So you have to think about what Craig is saying. God's going to allow the innocent, the weak, and the poor to suffer, so the rich can show their colors, can be courageous, and develop themselves into moral beings. That sounds kind of sick to me actually. I think this is totally incompatible with Christianity as you read it. Remember the proverb was that, "The meek shall inherit the earth," not that they shall be destroyed by it.
However.. this statement seems to imply something that I don't believe is relevant to the central question. Let me present it you this way:
If God allows a rich, successful man, to suffer at the hands of another man, so that the one man gets his head sawed off as he screams for the other to stop; would that god be more or less loving than one who would allow such a thing to happen to a man of less riches?
If you mean those instances of suffering apart from the direct actions of another individual-- such as famine, natural disaster, or the such-- then I would suggest that if you accept that letting a rich man be harmed by another is not more or less a reflection on ones character than if that character let a poor man be harmed by another, then I would only go to point to my even earlier statement. When it comes to suffering as a result of natural elements, it is only as an indirect result of the order than humans have set up themselves. It is not that there is not enough food or resources to support or move all individuals into certain areas of greater resources, it is that nations keep people in and others out. There is a unequal dispersal of resource and space because that is what people, as a whole, have created. One might counter, "there is no way that industrialized nations can take in all citizens of these other nations"-- and that might be true.. a sudden influx of a group of people skilled in only non-industrialized tasks, would most certainly put a large burden on the receiving nation. Yet.. once again, this system is as it is merely as a result of the man made system itself.
In my view, "Man" is as much responsible for a person who dies from famine as a man is responsible for killing another. Feel free to disagree. I am stating these things to present reasoning, not to give answers.
But God could solve the problem, or at least mitigate it a great deal, by sending more rain. Is this really too much to ask of a compassionate, miracle-working God?
I can only point to my earlier question. Would a god who mitigates pain by 'sending rain' be more or less loving even though, at the same time, he doesn't mitigate the pain of every other individual in a less general sense (murder, rape, torture, etc)? Both would be equally as easy for a God of infinite power? I have not stated my belief on God's personality.. or my understanding of the human condition, merely that these actions that you say increase your un-understanding of the possibility of an infinite are not necessarily the only rational conclusion to reach.
In my opinion it would be as hard to understand a god who 'allows' extreme suffering on the grand scale, then it would be as equally hard to believe in a god who 'allows' extreme suffering on the small scale.
Kreeft says he purposely let his daughter bleed a little, for the learning experience--the greater good to come.
I really do not understand this man if this story is actually true. I would hope that if I was a parent I would not 'let' my kid touch a stove and then follow that up by not tending to his wound just because he will 'learn better'. I would pull his hand away. I would consul him. For he trusts me and would let me tend to his wound.
The fact that a Christian would save the child if he could implies that Christians don't really believe that an apparently needless death serves any greater good.
Not necessarily.. As with the example of the father and their child: if harm is caused, I will tend to the harm for the harm is real and needs tending too. This would not change the fact that my child may have learned from the experience.
Whether or not their is "good that can comes from bad" exists independently (I would contend) from the "whether one should help to mitigate the bad."
Kreeft, of course, claims that injustice not rectified in this life will be rectified in the next. He quotes Mother Teresa, who said, "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel" (p. 47).
This I think belittles pain.
In other words, in the grand scheme of eternity, the dead baby's needless death is "no biggie."
This I think belittles eternity. For mathematically.. finite life is insignificant next to infinite.
But doesn't that make this life on Earth rather pointless?
I believe even an atheist would agree with this statement: we are living now, in the present, whether or not mathematically the existence of this time is insignificant to the existence of time itself, does not change the fact that life is real, present, and significant in this one.
To defer to a person's unverifiable condition after death in order to find any resulting greater good appears remarkably forced--it is tantamount to admitting that there is no greater good to be found.
I must admit.. I always felt that in a moment of suffering, the statement "it's for the greater good" to be insensitive even as other: "it was there time", "you can't change life". In general, I feel, as though, in a moment of suffering, ones purpose should be to be there.. not to make sense of it.
We can now, living apart from it all, with the clarity of mind to look backwards and forwards with thought and deliberation, look at all things and find 'greater good' if we wish too.
For we have to take it entirely on faith that this otherwise seemingly needless suffering resulted in any greater good at all.
While I have not defined my concept of this 'greater good' yet, I will in time.
A related question concerns the existence of evil. Kreeft says that the complete elimination of evil would eliminate free will and the chance for true love, and claims that some evil and suffering is necessary to make us who we are:
This I think is a odd statement for him to make.
It's like that old Twilight Zone television show, where a gang of bank robbers gets shot and one of them wakes up walking on fluffy clouds at the golden gate of a celestial city. A kindly white-robed man offers him everything he wants. But soon he's bored with the gold since everything is free, and the beautiful girls who only laugh when he tries to hurt them, since he has a sadistic streak. So he summons the St. Peter figure. "There must be some mistake." "No, we make no mistakes here." "Can't you send me back to earth?" "Of course not, you're dead." "Well, then I must belong with my friends in the Other Place. Send me there." "Oh, no, we can't do that. Rules you know." "But I thought I was supposed to like heaven?" "Heaven? Who said anything about heaven. Heaven is the Other Place." The point is that a world without suffering appears more like hell than heaven....
This on the other hand.. is a great analogy but not used in the manner in which he did. I will refer to it later.
But you have to think of the consequences of everything you try to improve.
If God could have 'improved' anything, I think he would have. I think he uses this word rather haphazardly.
Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom.
This, however, I agree with.
If Kreeft believes that an Earth without pain and suffering would be like Hell, what exactly does Kreeft believe Heaven is like?
Once again. I don't agree with the way he used it... for this very reason. But.. I will refer to it later.
Kreeft also asserts that simply recognizing "evil" as being "evil" in and of itself is a good argument for the existence of God. If there is no God, then there is no absolute definition of what is evil and what is not evil (p. 34).
I think you give a good enough response to this one. "The fact that many concepts don't have an ultimate meaning in a godless universe does not mean that they are without meaning to our biological nature." That is not to say that I don't believe there to be a validity in the concept he touches on, but more on that later.
Why, then, is it necessary for us to lack absolute proof of God's existence? And what about Satan? Satan, when he chose to rebel against God, had absolute proof of God's existence. And yet he was still free to choose not to follow God. Again, why is it necessary for humans to lack absolute proof of God's existence?
More on this in my section response.
God is often called our "Heavenly Father." If somebody's earthly father moved to another country and left no forwarding address, but left a few clues lying around as to where to find him, would we consider this earthly father worthy of seeking?
No. More on this in my section response.
And during this quest, at times beliefs that were held as unquestionable by the majority have been proven false.
And Kreeft must, of course, also realize that 90% of all human beings that have ever lived have not believed in his God. Kreeft seems likely to believe that the followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, pagan religions, and so on are completely wrong, but he is happy to accept their members just for the moment to "prove" how "snobbish" atheism is.
In his defense.. I believe it would have been "snobbish" for a person to come along during the time when 90% of the world believed the world was flat and proceeded to tell them it was round, and that they were irrational, and that only those claiming the world was round were rational.
Because.. the concepts necessary for proving the world was round were not understood, therefore not accepted, at that time. To call someone irrational because they don't understand that mathematics posited the world was round before sailing or space travel 'saw' it, does seem terribly 'snobbish'.
I am not saying that Atheist are like this, merely pointing out that if an Atheist proposed to 'prove' to a theist that they are stupid for not understanding, or accepting, theories that have not been 'proven' themselves.. they would be equally as snobbish.
"To be an atheist", however, is no more "snobbish" then "to be a Christian".. one is just "being". So yes, I would agree with you in some respects that Kreeft is a bit "snobbish" himself, because this is the very thing I think he meant for people to accept.
RESPONSE: Theist choose to address this issue in many ways. Each way would seem to contain a bit of ambiguity sown into the fabric of its position. I will try, the best I can, to relate my position. As much as some might say that my positions are inherently contradictory to the writings of the Bible, I do not believe them to be. I believe them to be supported by the Bible, even as others understand their understandings to be. The question might come up, well then how do you know which is right? And truth be told, I do not. I merely have made the choice to live by those things I have chosen to live by through reasoning-- even as you do.
If you would like to argue the points of the Bible, If you feel that they are inherently contradictory, then I will read your contention and respond; however, you must give the one verse you feel to be most clear in its contradiction to the position I state. This is the only way I can see it be done.. otherwise people will just say: "Look at bibleiscontradictory.com." And I will.. but, how could I get around to all of it? I might be able to address all the questions of the site, but to transport those questions here would grow this thread exponentially.. as well as, even then, not satisfy the one who contested first.
Would it not be more efficient to just take one of your choice to present?
SUMMARY (Objection 1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, A Loving God Cannot): I have accepted the Bible as truth. I have accepted that the God written of in its pages, is a real God. As such, I must address this objection within the context of that God, and not any other.
The words used very frequently to describe the Christian God by Christians are: loving, creator, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
I would agree these are our perceptions of him. As a Christian I accept that he is loving, for if he were any other than there would be no reason, that I can think of other than fear, to care for such a God. As a Christian I accept that he created all things, for if he did not then he is not God. As a Christian I accept that he has the capacity to do everything logically possible, for logically impossible things are logically impossible... while one might like to think a "square circle" could be created, it cannot logically be so since both the square and the circle are words designating concepts solely in the human mind. As a function of omnipotence, I, as a Christian, accept that he has the capacity to know all things, for omnipotence designates capacity for anything. As a Christian, I accept that existence, in all forms, is only sustained by his presence, and therefore, he is present (in some sense) in all things existent.
These are things I have chosen to believe in. So how do I make such concepts agree with the existence of suffering and evil in our world?
Here is my reasoning:
I believe the biggest problem within this debate is that both sides seem to automatically assume, or concede, the proposition that evil is a direct result from God, or in some way related to his wanting for it to go on longer, I do not believe this to be the case. I do believe it to be a reasonable argument to say that 'love' could not have existed without 'choice'. God, being a loving God, wanted that which he created to have to ability to love him back. Thus, freewill was placed into that which he created.
I further believe it to be a reasonable argument that, as a function of freewill, as a function of our heightened stated of consciousness, we are curious beings. We are. I do not believe history would give an example of a "non curious" being, for curiosity is the means by which we live.. it is the reason we attempt to crawl, taste food, walk, and so many other things. I am not discounting the possibility that these could be things as instinctual as a reflex.. yet I believe them both to be equally improvable or untestable theories. Furthermore, I am not saying that free will is curiosity, just that it is a necessary result of freewill. We wish to experience what we have not experienced.
And here is where I move to analogy to present my position:
If a father watches over his son, giving him all those things which are good for him, does this mean that the son will not wants those things which the father cannot give? Of course not. One asks the question.. one wants an answer. Yet, even as a parent cannot explain the experience of being burned by fire, so God could not explain the experience of being apart from him; for the very words used in the descriptions of burning and apartness, would require experience to understand. Or is one born with the innate ability to understand the concept of 'hot', 'burn', 'sting'.
The concept of sin is not one that brings about punishment from God but of de facto separation. Even as one must leave a house to try and live life on his own, so one must leave god to try and live on his. This is how I interpret the seemingly decreasing, direct interaction, interaction that God did with regards from the beginning of the Bible, where it was God having a direct conversation to Cain or the fire cloud above the Hebrews, and the end, where God had to become man to interact.
While many would like to think that we are more civilized now than thousands of years ago, it does not change the fact that we are perhaps even more barbarous now than then. Is killing someone because they are of a different race more or less barbarous than killing indiscriminately?
As a whole, humanity has long since continued on its journey to explore the experience of life as is. I know this might sound like I'm saying, "If only we would all serve God perfectly, then everything would be fine", I do not believe so. It is possible that I could be wrong however, I believe that it is so far removed from where we are that it does not seem a realistic goal. You, even I, explore those things we should not, and do those things we don't feel as if we should do. "I do what I do not want to do.." as Paul once wrote. All evil in the world is a direct result of our actions (as a whole), not of God's. God means only to sustain us until our curiosity runs out and our final choices are made.
Who knows when that might be. When it does come, and the story has been told, one will have made the choice, explicitly or implicitly through their life, which thing he cherishes more. If it his independence, then so be it, God will grant them their independence. If it be dependence, then so be it, God will bring them home. The desire to experience life away from God will no longer be existent, even as a child who has burnt himself enough will not longer wish to explore the curiosity of touching fire.
Hell.. you might say, is an apparent, common sense, contradiction to the concept of a loving God. I would probably agree with you on this point. I cannot imagine that if Man, to live, needs God to sustain him, how God, who is all-loving, can sustain an individual for the purpose of eternal torment/torture.
Yet, the belief in hell (of this sense) is not necessitated by scripture. Yes, there is a concept of "hell"-- but not necessarily one of eternal torment/torture. Feel free to disagree with me, and point out the particular part of scripture you feel to be most obvious on your point.
As I have stated before, when the time comes that our curiosity has been fulfilled, our choices will have been made, the story complete, we will live forever or die forever, wiped from existent by "eternal fire".
These are my thoughts. Part II will come, in time.