Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reply to an anonymous commentator

Anonymous has commented on the presentation of the argument from evil that Jason was kind enough to post, from The Problem of Pain.

Anon: Sounds like the typical Christian portrayal of what an atheistic outlook leads to. Supposedly, all is doom and gloom unless one buys into the idea of a supernatural being in the heavens.

VR: Where does he say this?

Anon: It's hard not to giggle when seeing how much Lewis anthropomorphized nature.

VR: Even Daniel Dennett talks about Mother Nature, (though I think he does anthropomorphize nature in a misleading way). But Lewis is just putting the case dramatically. And he is pointing to suffering as a reason for thinking that the universe is not intelligently designed by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. Similar dramatizations appear in the presentations of the argument from evil by David Hume and Bertrand Russell.

Anon: Lewis' argument falls apart here. He's made the unsupported assumption the the "world was really unjust." The problem of evil does not require such an assumption.

VR: We've been covering this issue quite a lot here. It requires some assumption about what God ought to do, which God is not doing. It presupposes an idea of what kinds of universes a perfectly good God should permit. It has, in short, a moral premise. But if the proposition "God ought to minimize suffering" is a private fancy of one's own on a level with a liking for pancakes or a dislike for Spam, we have severely weakened the argument from evil. Unless one happens to be arguing with someone with the same private fancy.

3 comments:

Jason said...

Anon (quoted from a previous thread, though also above in Victor’s repost): “I beg to differ. Sounds like the typical Christian portrayal of what an atheistic outlook leads to.”

I beg to differ in return: Lewis was not merely pretending to be an atheist from early adolescence into his early 30s. He’s on record in private correspondence (and public books of poetry collections) saying pretty much the same thing as reported here, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that a man as opinionated and outspoken as Lewis, was not just as outspoken where there was no record.

Furthermore, you must not have much experience dealing with sceptical apologists. I recommend reading the last twenty or thirty main posts Victor has put up on the topic of morality (in regard to theism), along with the comments (for starters). The principle argument given by Lewis from TPoP is very strongly and well represented there, by the sceptical side; including in the most recent entries. Lewis’ case was (and still is) very much _their_ case.

Now, opponents may argue that Lewis converted (slowly, reluctantly and haltingly) back to Christianity for poor reasons. But this _is_ what he was moving _from_. Indeed, that quote puts his animosity toward both theism in general and Christianity in particular very lightly, compared to things he actually wrote back in that day--if anything, he has soft-pedalled his previous position. (More strictly, he has presented it in a way he believed honored the sceptics, among whom he used to rank himself, and many of whom he still considered to be friends and worthy of respect.)


Anon: “Supposedly, all is doom and gloom unless one buys into the idea of a supernatural being in the heavens.”

I’m sorry. Which part of what Lewis reported, in that quote, was not considered to be scientifically and/or historically accurate in his day (or even in our day still)? Has the Law of Entropy been declared unconstitutional when I wasn’t paying attention?


Anon: “It's hard not to giggle when seeing how much Lewis anthropomorphized nature.”

In all that long sequence, I can find only two places that would technically count as anthropomorphism: Lewis calls Earth “her” once near the beginning, which is simply a poetic nod; and near the end he writes about “the idiotic face of infinite matter”, which again is simply a poetic way of saying ‘Nature doesn’t care for us’. (It’s kind of an anti-anthropomorph, really.)

Lewis does spend about half of that long paragraph talking about sentient _humans_; but it would seem a bit ridiculous to complain about him anthropomorphizing _them_.


This leads me to suspect Anon didn’t really read what Lewis had written; a suspicion intensified when Anon continues with:

Anon: “Without a deity there is no problem of evil. The problem emerges when a theist proposes that an omnibenevolent and omniscient deity is responsible for the creation of the world without an edequate explanation for why He would have made so much suffering.”

yeeeesssss... which is why Lewis specifically phrases his argument as an answer to people claiming an omni-etc. deity exists. (Indeed, his whole introductory chapter can be summed up in exactly Anon’s words here.) I’m pretty sure I included that, back up at the beginning of the excerpt. (Yep, I just checked, still there.)


Anon (in regard to the portion from MC quoted by Victor): “[Lewis has] made the unsupported assumption the ‘world was really unjust.’ The problem of evil does not require such an assumption.”

I thought Victor’s answer was good, but it can be simplified even further: if there is no such thing as unfair suffering, then there is no anti-theistic argument from injustice (and/or from unfair suffering). There cannot even be a ‘problem from evil’ simpliciter (completely aside from theistic implications) without recognized ‘evil’ to be working ‘from’ as data.

(The problem from evil is that there is no evil?? Then there is no problem, either. {shrug!} Including against the theist.)

Would any sceptics here like to rephrase their anti-theistic Argument from Evil by eliminating the whole, y’know, _evil_ part? (I’m rather curious to see it tried, if anyone cares to attempt it.)

Jason Pratt

Jason said...

Note: timing error. Lewis was in the (slow) process of reconverting for at least five years, I think. So I was wrong to say he was an atheist from early adolescence _until_ early 30s.

If any Victor-student is hanging around, there might be a good paper to be written somewhere in tracing Lewis' atheism up to the point where he changed to idealism (a form of pantheism), thus making the switch to theism. (Even a good book, maybe. I'd write it myself, if I had the time...)

JD Walters said...

"Without a deity there is no problem of evil. The problem emerges when a theist proposes that an omnibenevolent and omniscient deity is responsible for the creation of the world without an edequate explanation for why He would have made so much suffering."

Nope. It's not that without a deity there is no problem of evil. Without a deity there is no SOLUTION to the problem of evil. The atheist just has to accept that the world is pretty f--ked up and billions of people are going to fade into oblivion without hope or justice.

"Lewis' argument falls apart here. He's made the unsupported assumption the the "world was really unjust." The problem of evil does not require such an assumption."

If it doesn't, then what exactly is the argument from evil supposed to accomplish? If the arguer doesn't grant that the world is really unjust, then he must admit that all evil and suffering is merely subjective, no more a cause for complaining than not seeing more of your favorite color around town. For the argument from evil to work against God, the world REALLY has to be unjust. It can't just be all in our heads.

The burden of proof is on the atheist to show that evil makes God an impossibility.