Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 21:38:24 EST

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    On Wed, 19 Jan 2000 21:29:37 -0600, Tom Pearson wrote:


    TP>I have found this discussion, largely between Stephen E. Jones and Chris
    >Cogan, to be interesting and helpful. ...

    There's no accounting for taste! :-)

    Seriously, welcome to the Reflector Tom, if you're new. I notice you are
    from the "Department of History & Philosophy" at "The University of
    Texas". Maybe you could tell us a bit more about yourself so we can know
    where you are coming from?

    >SJ>As Craig pointed out in his debate with Zindler, the "argument from evil"
    >>presupposes that there is "evil". He pointed out that the existence of
    >>evil in turn presupposed objective moral values, which Mackie, on of
    >>the world's leading atheist philosophers admitted could not be admitted
    >>to exist without providing a powerful Moral Argument for the existence
    >>of God!

    TP>Although Craig's position here is frequently put forward by theists, this
    >is a circular argument. The reason that evil presupposes objective moral
    >values in this argument is that the definition of "evil" has been reduced
    >to "moral evil." "Natural evil" -- pain and suffering, and other signs of
    >disorder -- do not presuppose any objective moral values.

    But then why would they be called "evil"? The whole concept of "evil"
    presupposes that things are not how they *should* be. And "should" is a
    "*moral* category. On materialistic-naturalist principles "pain and
    suffering" just *are*. The atheists Gould and Dawkins have written that the
    universe is *indifferent* to our sufferings:

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this
    most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes-one indifferent to our
    suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in
    our own chosen way." (Gould S.J., "Wonderful Life", 1991, pp322-323).

    "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if
    there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing
    but blind, pitiless indifference." (Dawkins R., "River out of Eden", 1996,

    TP>Calling these
    >natural phenomena "evil" only requires that God be both a creative and a
    >rational agent, which are normal features of theism.

    Disagree. "Evil" is not a problem for Intelligent Design, for example,
    because in ID the Designer is only required to be intelligent and powerful.
    Only if the Designer is claimed to be *good*, as He is in Christian theism,
    is evil a problem.

    TP>A creative and
    >rational agent would not sanction a disorderly creation, but the existence
    >of pain and suffering are evidence of disorder (and so this argument is
    >sometimes called the "Evidential Argument from Evil" in the

    I disagree with both propositions that "A creative and rational agent would
    not sanction a disorderly creation" and that "pain and suffering are
    evidence of disorder", at least until "disorder" is clearly defined.

    The Christian God, for example, is free to sanction whatever He pleases, to
    achieve His ends, even a certain amount of disorder.

    The creation in Genesis 1 starts out with "a certain amount of disorder"
    (e.g. Gen 1:2 "Now the earth was formless and empty...) and at the end of
    God's creative activity is described as "very good" (Gen 1:31), Yet it has
    wild animals in it and needs to be subdued by man:

    "It is expressed in the mandate given to man in Genesis 1:28 which reads,
    'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have
    dominion...over every living thing...' This mandate thus charged man with
    `subduing' the earth. The Hebrew word for 'subdue' is kabas, and in all its
    other occurrences in Scripture (about twelve in all) it is used as a term
    indicating strong action in the face of opposition, enmity or evil. Thus, the
    land of Canaan was 'subdued' before Israel, though the Canaanites had
    chariots of iron; weapons of war are 'subdued', so are iniquities. The word
    is never used in a mild sense. It indicates, I believe, that Adam was sent
    into a world where all was not sweetness and light for in such a world what
    would there be to subdue? The animals, it suggests, included some that
    were wild and ferocious, 26 and Adam was charged to exercise a genuinely
    civilizing role and to promote harmony among them." (Spanner D.C.,
    "Biblical Creation and the Theory of Evolution", 1987, p53)

    Another example is the Scriptures which Christianity claims is from God
    but they evidence a certain amount of disorder, even if some of that
    disorder was not in the original manuscripts. There is a benefit to this
    (IMHO intended by God) to give theologians meaningful work in
    attempting to bring greater order to God's revealed thoughts, by systematic
    theologies, etc.

    And "pain and suffering are" not "evidence of disorder" but a necessary
    part of a world in which life must feed on life. Psalm 104 even says this is
    evidence of the *wisdom* of God:

    You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
    The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises,
    and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then man goes
    out to his work, to his labor until evening. How many are your works, O
    LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
    There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number-
    living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the
    leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give
    them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it
    up; when you open your hand, hand, they are satisfied with good things.
    (Ps 104:20-28).

    And *human* pain and suffering are not "evidence of disorder" but are
    largely (not IMHO entirely) the result of *sin*. Personally I believe that
    there may have been a certain amount of pain and suffering in man's
    original state before he entered his state of sin. The Bible only says that
    *death* was the result of sin: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world
    through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all
    men, because all sinned" (Rom 5:12).

    TP>This is supported in many ways, not least by the repeated connection
    >between sin and death in the New Testament.

    "Pain and suffering" is not the same thing as "death". The NT says that
    death is the result of sin, but it does not AFAIK say that all "pain and
    suffering" are the result of sin, although it does indicate that some forms
    of pain and suffering are caused by sin (e.g. Gn 3:16-19).

    Pain is not necessarily a wholly bad thing-there are some individuals who
    cannot feel pain in parts of their body. In my former life as a Hospital
    Administrator I was actually the CEO of a Leprosarium attached to my
    main hospital. I was told by staff of the Leprosarium that some lepers could
    not feel pain in their hands and feet, and were always in danger of burning
    those parts without realising it. In that case *lack* of pain was evil.

    Nor is suffering necessarily a wholly bad thing. The Bible depicts suffering
    as a refining mechanism, e.g.: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our
    sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
    perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Rom 5:3-4).

    TP>The death of an organism is
    >not normally considered a "moral evil," but as a natural event. However,
    >death is portrayed as "the wages of sin," and is something to be lamented,
    >a sign of disorder.

    Again disagreed. Only the death of *humans* is regarded as "a sign of"
    *moral* "disorder". The Bible says nothing about the death of animals
    being the result of sin:

    "Of all life on the earth, only humans have earned the title sinner." Only
    humans can experience "death through sin." Note that the death Adam
    experienced is carefully qualified the text as being visited on "all men"-not
    on plants and animals, just on human beings (Romans 5:12,18-19)." (Ross
    H.N., "Creation and Time", 1994, p61)

    TP>"Evil" is thus related not only to moral dysfunction,
    >but to natural dysfunction as well. But if the definition of "evil" is
    >restricted to moral dysfunction, ignoring natural dysfunction, then of
    >course it will have to presuppose objective moral values. But this moves
    >simply re-defines "evil" in moral categories, and thus becomes a circular

    Disagree. "Evil" (at least in the Christian metaphysical framework) is
    *always* a "moral category". Indeed, Christian philosopher-theologians
    like William Lane Craig (and lesser lights like me) would argue that *only*
    within the Christian metaphysical framework, where there is the concept of
    a good God, and His will not being done on Earth, as it is in Heaven (Mt
    6:10), can there *truly* said to be "evil".

    TP>I hasten to add that I do not believe that the traditional problem of evil
    >entails skepticism about the existence of God, although some certainly want
    >to tug the argument in this direction.

    Evil is a "problem" for Christianity, but it is not a contradiction of it.
    IMHO the Bible has sufficient resources to explain the problem. Indeed
    William Lane Craig would probably (and I do) argue that *only* for
    Christianity is "evil" truly a "problem" and that *only* Christianity has
    evil's ultimate solution.

    TP>One does not need to deny the
    >indelible reality of both moral and natural evil in order to affirm the
    >reality of the God confessed by the Christian tradition.

    Agreed. But Craig (and I) would go further and claim that *only* by
    affirming the reality of the God confessed by the Christian tradition" can
    evil truly even be *defined* and then satisfactorily explained, and then
    ultimately defeated.

    >SJ>Therefore, to argue that atheism is true, one would have to try to show the
    >>non-"existence of deity", ie. "that there is no deity".
    >>But as I said in my post, "Craig pointed out that it was not
    >>good enough for Zindler to argue that there is not enough evidence to prove
    >>that God *does* exist. If atheism is to be accepted as true, then atheists
    >>must show that God *does not* exist".
    >>Chris needs to disprove the existence of *God* (e.g. the *Christian* God),
    >>not just play one defintion of God off against another.

    TP>These comments are scattered through Stephen's post, but they all point to
    >a logical fallacy: the requirement that it is necessary, in this case, to
    >prove a negative. To "disprove the existence of God" is logically
    >impossible, because of the purely deductive nature of "disproofs," while
    >all arguments on this matter are carried out inductively.

    Disagree. There is no "logical fallacy" in my posts (at least on this point! :-
    )). It is *atheism's* claim that `there is no God', so it is *atheism's* problem
    if it cannot prove its central claim. If the Christian God is true, then one
    would expect the logical universe to be so constructed that atheism cannot,
    even in principle, prove its central claim.

    It is IMHO "a logical fallacy" to blame Christian theists for demanding
    atheists prove their main claim: that `God does not exist'. It is part of the
    argument of Christian theism that atheism cannot prove its main claim. If
    atheism cannot prove its main claim, then it should admit it and not make
    the claim, and then revert to the lesser claim of agnosticism. But then
    agnostics could not argue against the *existence* of God, just against the
    *knowability* of God.

    TP>Thus, it is not
    >at all clear why atheists should be held to this strategic requirement.

    See above. Atheists by their very *name* (and certainly their arguments)
    claim that `there is no God'. It is perfectly legitimate for Christian theists to
    demand that they prove it their main claim. If they can't prove it, that is the
    *atheists'* problem. Indeed, I would argue that it is one of the strongest
    arguments for the existence of God, that the argument that He does not
    exist is not even provable in principle.

    >course, Stephen presents this requirement over against those who might
    >claim that atheism is "true." But most atheists I know aren't interested
    >in "proving" atheism "true," if that means providing a deductively
    >impeccable argument.

    Whether "atheists...aren't interested in `proving' atheism `true' is
    *irrelevant* (to me at least). If they claim to be atheists, then they
    *are* claiming that atheism is true (ie. there is no God). That they
    "aren't interested in `proving' it is itself evidence that atheism is

    To see this, put the boot on the other foot. Atheists are always
    attacking the main claim of Christian theism, that `God exists'. And
    Christian theism, unlike atheism, has always been interested in
    trying to prove that it it's main claim is true. Now if Christian theists
    simply said they "aren't interested in trying to prove that theism is
    true, I am sure atheists would claim this is evidence against
    Christian theism! Why cannot Christian theists argue that atheism's
    lack of interest in proving (or even defending) its main claim
    is itself evidence against atheism?

    TP>They are interested in making an inference to the
    >best explanation, which is an inductive procedure. So, after assembling a
    >set of evidence derived from human experience, they conclude that the "best
    >explanation" of the evidence is that God, or a certain description of God,
    >cannot be justifiably said to exist. But this is much different from
    >"proving" anything.

    Again I must disagree with Tom. Atheists *start* with the metaphysical
    assumption that there is no God, and look around for evidence to support
    their apriori belief. The very act of "assembling a set of evidence" is based
    on the default starting assumption that God either is not known to exist or
    doe not exist, ie. agnosticism or atheism.

    But because by the time they get to adulthood and start "assembling a set
    of evidence derived from human experience ", these prospective atheists
    are already sinners with a long prior personal history of pleasing themselves
    and rejecting God. So by that stage they don't want to admit there is a God
    because of the personal implications of that admission. It's a well-known
    human reaction called the Concorde Fallacy. Humans are strongly
    influenced by their prior investment in something and will keep `throwing
    good money after bad'.

    The evidence of this is that the arguments for Intelligent Design of the
    universe and living things is *overwhelming* (and atheist writings are
    full of that admission). If atheists were *really* open to the evidence they
    would all become theists, and indeed Christian theists. Because there is no
    question that that is the way in which the evidence points.

    So (maybe even unconsciously) these prospective atheists minimise
    evidence for God and maximise evidence against God, and dress up their
    unbelief in sophisticated philosophical arguments to justify what they really
    *want* to believe in the first place. Some even frankly admit it:

    "I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently
    assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find
    satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no
    meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure
    metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason
    why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends
    should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most
    advantageous to themselves.... For myself, the philosophy of
    meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and
    political." (Huxley A., "Ends and Means", 1946, p273, in McDowell J.,
    "Evidence That Demands A Verdict", 1988, p11)

    This is the strong teaching of the New Testament (eg. Romans 1), that all
    men *know* there is a God, but because of sin, they try to suppress this
    knowledge. So in that sense there is really no such thing as a true atheist,
    although after a long time of suppressing the truth and living as thought
    there were no God, it is possible that atheist no longer consciously
    remember that there is a God!

    From the Christian perspective there is certainly no one who is *neutral*
    in the question of the existence of God. Jesus said in Mat 12:30 that "He
    who is not with me is against me...".



    "In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable
    progressions. In general. these have not been found-yet the optimism has
    died hard and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks. This is illustrated
    by other statements in the Root-Bernstein letter, such as: "Evolution
    postdicts certain immutable trends of progressive change that can be
    falsified." This is simply not the case! In the fossil record, we are faced with
    many sequences of change: modifications over time from A to B to C to D
    can be documented and a plausible Darwinian interpretation can often be
    made after seeing the sequence. But the predictive (or postdictive) power
    of theory in these cases is almost nil." (Raup D.M., "Evolution and the
    Fossil Record", Science, Vol. 213, No. 4505, 17 July 1981, p289).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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