Monday, 21 April 2014

William Lane Craig on The Problem Of Evil

I've been reading through The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, where William Lane Craig is the voice critiquing atheistic arguments and promoting theistic arguments. Of what he wrote, it's his critique of the problem of evil I want to explore.

Craig frames the problem of evil like so:
  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.
His contention is that (2) is the weak point of the argument. As Craig acknowledges "Everybody admits that the world is filled with apparently gratuitous suffering", but does Craig sufficiently deal with the problem? Here are his responses.
1. We are not in a good position to assess with confidence the probability that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.
"Once we contemplate God’s providence over the whole of history, then it becomes evident how hopeless it is for limited observers to speculate on the probability that some evil we see is ultimately gratuitous."
2. Christian theism entails doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and evil.
(i) The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.
"Many evils occur in life that may be utterly pointless with respect to producing human happiness; but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper, saving knowledge of God."
(ii) Mankind has been accorded significant moral freedom to rebel against God and his purpose.
"The horrendous moral evils in the world are testimony to man’s depravity in this state of spiritual alienation from God."
(iii) God’s purpose spills over into eternal life.
"Given the prospect of eternal life, we should not expect to see in this life God’s compensation for every evil we experience. Some may be justified only in light of eternity."
(iv) The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.
"[T]he person who knows God, no matter what he or she suffers, no matter how awful his or her pain, can still truly say, “God is good to me!” simply in virtue of the fact that he or she knows God."
3. There is better warrant for believing that God exists than that the evil in the world is really gratuitous.
"[I]f God exists, then the evil in the world is not really gratuitous."

I would wonder just how viable each of those options are. (1) is an concession to our ignorance on matters at all. If the objection held, then we'd just as equally be able to say that the evidence of an all-evil God or a morally-indifferent God is just as likely as an omnibenevolent God. So whatever other reasons one would have to believe that there's a divine power, we'd have no reason to favour just what nature that divine power embodies. Would believers be comfortable in accepting that the universe is just as easily made by a malevolent deity as an omnibenevolent one?

(2) is a curious strategy, not least because it immediately conjures up the Epicurean objection: "Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent." Even if knowledge of God was an immesurable good, why would we need to have gratuitous suffering alongside it? If it doesn't matter, then it's powerful evidence against God's benevolence. One might be able to make the case iff suffering increased the likelihood of knowledge of God, but then that would require good evidence in its favour. Knowledge of the Christian God is largely based on the actions of Christian evangelism rather than by suffering directly. Most people throughout our species' history have suffered (sometimes gratuitously) without there even being the idea of Christianity, let alone the exposure to it. So the premises (2i), (2ii), and (2iv) don't even make sense for most of the suffering we have.

Furthermore, most life evidentially can suffer, and there's no question of a chimpanzee or an octopus having knowledge of God. Other animals react much the same to pain as we do, so why would a God allow them to suffer when none of the four responses even begin to address animal suffering? Craig's answer from elsewhere is "God has shielded almost the entire animal kingdom throughout its history from an awareness of being in pain!" Though almost doesn't include all animals beside from human, even if Craig is correct in interpreting the evidence as other great apes have the structures, yet don't have knowledge of God. So at best Craig has merely reduced the scope of animal suffering but not eliminated the problem.

The idea of heaven (2iii) seems to work against the notion of a benevolent God. Far from a saving grace, it highlights exactly what the problem of evil says - this world doesn't look like it was created by a benevolent God. If God could have created the world without gratuitous suffering, then why do we have gratuitous suffering? Also, why would a child need to die slowly and painfully of cancer before heaven rather than just getting into heaven without experiencing that suffering at all? Similarly, (2ii) asks the question of why a benevolent God would create us in such a depraved way. Quite a lot of atheists, for example, are quite civilised and don't contribute to the gratuitous suffering of our fellow humans. Their spiritual alienation from God doesn't lead to total depravity. Meanwhile there are believers who tortured others in the name of their faith. Did they have spiritual alienation? Besides, most suffering in the world has nothing to do with the actions of humanity - spiritually alienated or not.

For (3) to work, we would need to have greater confidence in the evidence for God's existence than the evidence for gratuitous suffering. Since we have very good evidence for gratuitous suffering such that Craig acknowledges the apparent gratuitous suffering, so it's setting a really high bar for evidence for God. It's not helped by the problem that other arguments for God, as Stephen Law points out, are neutral on the moral characteristics for God. So even if the other arguments are very persuasive, they wouldn't be evidence against the actual gratuitous suffering in the world. Perhaps a morally-indifferent God or an omnimalevolent God would be a better fit for the data. But even if we ignore that issue (perhaps God is necessarily omnibenevolent), that the morally-indifferent god or omnimalevolent god would be a better fit for the data would suggest that the evidence really doesn't favour God over the fact of gratuitous suffering.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Appearance of Legitimacy

Japan have suffered a setback in putting whale meat on the table with their "scientific program" being labelled a ruse by an international court. Of course, the Japanese knew it was a ruse too (their disappointment was expressed in the denial of tradition, not of what they could have learnt from slaughtering whales), yet it was a ruse they needed to keep up for international obligations.

This same kind of legitimacy is presumably what Russia sought with the referendum in Crimea, or any dictator does with a "poll". It's the kind of ruse that fools nobody, yet it's enough to fend off simple criticism. Russia doesn't care about having a fair election any more than a dictator does, yet the burden is now on those who say it's unfair - a burden that really can't be met beyond suspicion.

The example I want to highlight, though, is scientific creationism. What should be said about all creationism is this - any starting point other than the science will exclude it from being science. It's that simple. The goal of science isn't to vindicate any doctrine, religious or otherwise, but to use observation to develop and test theories. Creationists fall afoul of this because they already have the answer.

Yet creationists want scientific legitimacy. While many will affirm that the bible is their starting point, they are also quick to criticise any scientific claim that seemingly contradicts that. They also crave people with qualifications - real qualifications if possible, but degree mills in the absence of those. They even have their own "scientific" journals where people submit "real" research.

What is interesting is exploring what the response to that should be. Science, of course, needs to be an open enterprise and people need to be able to explore avenues wherever they lead. At the same time, scientists need to guard against pseudoscientists who are looking to use the scientific process to serve their own ends.

What we end up with, sad to say, is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The complaint was that Intelligent Design isn't being given a fair go by the scientific community, and proponents are finding that their support of Intelligent Design is meaning losing academic credibility. It sounds appalling, which it would be if it were the case.

There is a perceived circularity with scientific orthodoxy. Intelligent Design, to be a legitimate view, needs to have academic support. But since the evolutionists are the ones in charge of what gets called science, Intelligent Design cannot get the academic support it needs. In other words, the orthodoxy rigs the game by excluding any person or paper that might be sympathetic to ID as simply being anti-science.

Of course if this were really circular, then it would be utterly astounding that science progresses at all. Yet science does, and the ideas accepted by the biological community now are not the same as 50, 100, or 150 years ago when Darwin first published. The big deal is made of the orthodoxy because it's a convenient scape goat standing in the way of perceived scientific legitimacy.

What Expelled did was tie cases of ID proponents being fired or denied tenure to the fact that they were ID proponents. That in turn was tied into the wider narrative of academia trying to exclude God from the picture. What this does is gives a reason for the lack of legitimacy. They are serious scientists doing serious research promoting a serious view, but the atheistic evolutionists stand in their way. (One of the most baffling things about Expelled is how much of the film is about Richard Dawkins' atheism, from theologians discussing it to Ben Stein drilling Dawkins on what gods he doesn't believe in.)

The argument so far has been made without context. If we were to put ID into a cultural and historical context, ID an incarnation of creationism in an attempt to give it scientific legitimacy at least as far as what gets taught to students. ID is aimed at school boards, politicians, and at the wider public. It craves scientific legitimacy not because God should be vindicated in science, but because scientific legitimacy is what counts as far as what is taught in science class. If ID were to limit itself to being an expression of natural theology, there'd be no issue. But as the wedge document confirms, the motives of ID proponents is to ultimately bring people to Jesus.

Thus scientists are put in an awkward position. If people want to use the appearance of scientific legitimacy for their nonscientific ideas, then scientists have to guard against it. But if they do guard against it, they are accused of guarding the orthodoxy against proper scrutiny. Proper science is brought down to the level of pseudoscience by virtue of pseudoscience being able to better posture itself as legitimate science persecuted by the orthodoxy.

The value of real science is that what is the mainstream now had to be earned through the scientific process. Just as a real democracy requires an open political process. The pale imitation of dictatorships fools no-one even though it's an attempt of dictators to appease their critics. The same goes for creationists pretending to do science. They aren't doing so because they want to find the truth - they know their truth already - but because it's what's expected of them.

The problem is that their pale imitation isn't the same thing as doing real science, and real scientists call them out on it. The irony of it all is that scientists standing up for science has become to be seen an expression of ideology, while ideologues craving the appearance of scientific legitimacy as the persecuted minority standing up for Truth.