Friday, October 23, 2009

The Problem of Evil/Suffering

The following is a quasi-dialogue I cut and pasted from Yahoo! Answers.

Original question posted on Yahoo! Answers:
I'm coming up with a huge final project for my speech class on why God doesn't exist, and there has to be 3 main points. I'm really SERIOUS about this, and I REALLY want to get everybody thinking.So far my first point is the PROBLEM OF EVIL, my second point is the PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTION, and I need one more. What's another REALLY good point that can get these fable believing kids to re-think their patterns?

My reply:
D, I’d like to know why you think the problem of evil and suffering is such a problem for theism. In the absence of God and knowledge of good, how would you know what is evil in the first place? Right now, you assume that evil takes place and object to it (i.e. slavery is evil). You wouldn’t know that unless you have an objective standard of moral conduct by which you think all human beings should live, and that can only be the case if God exists. If God does not exist, there is no way to judge anything to be really evil. If God does not exist, evil is a point of view, and suffering is just happenstance. If the problem of evil is a problem for theism, then it is more of a problem for atheism.

Second, I’d like to know more about this “contradiction” you talk about.

Rebuttal from another person answering the question (abbreviated for length):
Evil - Research shows that the reason humans struggle with emotion to find equitable solutions is pinpointed the region of the brain called the insular cortex, or insula, which is also the seat of emotional reactions.The fact that the brain has such a robust response to unfairness shows that sensing unfairness is a basic evolved capacity. The emotional response to unfairness pushes people from extreme inequity and drives them to be fair. This observation shows our basic impulse to be fair isn't a complicated thing that we learn.It therefore fully illustrates that all humans have morals controlled by the brain and that Christians are entirely wrong to try and claim morals as their own!!!!

But Christians found a way round it!! Government statistics show that christians are vastly over represented in prisons for sexual, violent and fraudulent crime!!The Catholic church is paying millions in compensation for the sex/pedophile crimes of their priests alone!! Christians are vastly over represented in the divorce courts!!

Atheists have the intellect to see through the conditioning and escape into the real world!!Agnostics have the intellect to see through the conditioning but lack the courage to throw of the conditioning entirely.

Unfortunately, Yahoo! Answers only allows one-time replies, so here is my reply to the above commenter's statements:
The conclusions drawn here don’t follow from anything stated as premises at all. Your arguments don’t SHOW anything except that you have made an ad hoc conclusion to the fact that human beings do believe in objective morality. The atheist still cannot explain how he knows some things are objectively evil (i.e. slavery), only that he feels that it is somehow.

Reducing the problem of evil/suffering to a problem of unfairness doesn’t help the atheist argument, because basing a sense of morality on emotions and feelings in no way makes anything objectively evil. In fact, thinking like that only argues for the opposite, that morals are relative, and then the atheist has the problem of explaining why he thinks that slavery is really wrong and therefore God doesn’t exist.

Fraud, sex crimes, pedophilia –the only way you could say that these things are evil is if you know that they are evil (even divorce?), not say that you have some evolved capacity to feel that such actions are “inequitable.” Be that as it may, some people feel differently and think it is perfectly fine to commit pedophilia (NAMBLA, anyone?). I see that you think there is some kind of evil perpetuated on the gay community by Christians. If you really think that this is unjust (not simply “inequitable”), then you are appealing to some objective standard that exists apart from anyone’s feelings in the brain. On what basis would you judge those who oppose your particular sense of morality?

Atheists have the intellect to see through the conditioning and escape into the real world!!

How can this be if everything about an atheist is evolved only to survive and perpetuate genes? As it is, there is no advantage in survivability to believing that God does not exist, so how could anyone evolve out of religious belief? How could anyone evolve into it? Ultimately, if naturalistic evolution is the game of life, there is no “real world” that anyone needs to concern himself with, only survivability.

The problem still remains for the atheist who wishes to appeal to the problem of evil/suffering as an argument against the existence of God. In identifying moral injustices in the world to which he accuses God of not being there to rectify, he places himself in the position of actually making an objective moral judgment, something he cannot do without the the objective standard that only God can give. Therefore, God must exist in order for an atheist to make this kind of judgment! As C.S. Lewis says,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? - Mere Christianity

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