Atheism's problem of evil

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fleetmouse
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Atheism's problem of evil

Post by fleetmouse » Tue Dec 29, 2009 9:40 am

I've seen a few posts recently where Christians point at horrible acts and imply that a nontheistic worldview is inadequate to explain them. Metacrock briefly alluded to this recently in another thread on Doxa regarding a little girl who was sold into prostitution by her mother and ended up dead in a ditch.

So I would like to explore this - is the existence of acts that we would call evil a problem for naturalism, and why?

Before the ball gets rolling, we should discuss whether evil is an essence or simply an adjective. I think this is the crux of the matter.

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by Metacrock » Tue Dec 29, 2009 11:36 am

fleetmouse wrote:I've seen a few posts recently where Christians point at horrible acts and imply that a nontheistic worldview is inadequate to explain them. Metacrock briefly alluded to this recently in another thread on Doxa regarding a little girl who was sold into prostitution by her mother and ended up dead in a ditch.

So I would like to explore this - is the existence of acts that we would call evil a problem for naturalism, and why?

Before the ball gets rolling, we should discuss whether evil is an essence or simply an adjective. I think this is the crux of the matter.
(1) Is evil an essence?

Well first of all, I think it's too narrow and simplstic to say it's either an essence or an adjective. I am not an essentialist. I don't believe women are women because their spirits are the essence of female or that men are male because their spirits are the essence of male. I do have Platonic tendencies (which I've tried to keep under control but the non Plato patch just doesn't work, the gum tastes horrible). But my Platonism is augmented by Augustine, so I'm not actually a full no Platonist.

I do think evil is more than just a word we use to describe stuff we don't like. But I supposes what you really mean is "is it satan or is it us?" right? I don't believe in little guys with pointed tials sitting on your shoulder encouraging you to do stuff.

I do think evil is a value judgment, but it's also more than that. It's a real tendency but not a positive essence, but rather the lack of the good. Being an Augustinian like Augustine I see evil as the absence of Good, and by "good" I mean "love." The illusion of a positive force of evil is created by positive actions that ensue from the lac of love. The analogy would be the way cold is seen as a positive force by people who don't know physics. Of cousre we (us educated types) know that there is no force radiant cold, it's all a matter of lack of heat, but the blowing of cold air gives the illusion of radiant cold. Cold does not radiate like heat. you can sit front of an ice cub and get cool, unless you blow air over it (which is the basic principle of an air conditioner) but then it's the heat being absorbed by the vacuum of cold that makes the air feel cool. It's not a force of cool blowing on you.

So it is with evil. It's the acts of evil that make it appear to be a force. It's actually the lack of love (which is synonymous with the good).


(2) Would a non theistic world be evil?

A world ran by Dawkins would be evil. A world ran by half the people on CARM would be very screwed. But then I wouldn't give much for the chances of a world ran by Mat Slick either!

I have always contended (I don't know what I said on the thread you talk about) that atheists can be good people, and many are, but they are coasting on Christian memories in the culture (meaning values). That does not men they are evil people it just means they have to get their ethical norms from some place and they usually get them from a culture that is working on the fading values of a Christian past. That's our measuring stick in this country and in the West for ethical norms.

The problem with atheists ethics wise is their inability to ground their axioms, not the inability of individual atheists to be moral. Now here's another paradox that is apt to cause misunderstanding. All have sinned and fallen short of ht Glory of God. that means Christians sin, atheist sin, everyone sins. So when atheists sin we say "see atheists can't be moral." But we forget to point out, "O yea, Neither can we!"

Paul tells us (Rm2:6-14) the moral law is written on the heart and that Gentiles not born under the law do actually keep elements of the law because they follow the moral law on their hearts. That has to mean that atheist also can be moral and have an innate sense of what is moral. But we all sin, we all fail at some point so atheists will sin and when they do there will be certain one's there to point it out, and go "ah ha" but those guys are strangely silent when their own sins are apparent.

So the ethics front is a matter of academic involvement. you have to think critically and understand the conversation among professional ethicist to really get what ethics is about. But if you do that I think it can be demonstrated that Theistic ethics is superior in terms of grounding axioms. But that has nothing to do with the rubber and road in terms of individual failings.

I think what I was getting at in that other thread is just that people tend to cover up the concept of sin nature. We don't like to think of ourselves as sinners. So when horrible things happen naturalistic types don't' want to face that something in all of us could lead any one of us to do that same kidn of thing at some point.

that does not mean that those naturalistic types aer not just as good as am I, or just as fallen as am I.
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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by sgttomas » Tue Dec 29, 2009 3:17 pm

The problem of evil cannot be conceived of in the same manner as in a theistic philosophy. ....there's no one to be culpable in a metaphysical sense, only in the individual/conscious choice sense, and even then evil is culturally defined. Instead, the problem of evil in an atheistic philosophy is a technological dilemma. The problem only exists inasmuch as it is culturally defined to exist. The solution is to technologically alter the ability of the individual to act out "evil". Having tamed the more egregious acts from the individual, the next order of magnitude problem is optimization of beneficial, or "good" behaviour - again, by technological means.

Here I am using the academic definition of technology as, "a set of instructions related to and indicative of actions pertaining to an established goal and the means by which the goal is accomplished". So technology is more than just the hammer, it is also the education system that teaches one all about hammers and the political system that legislates its use. By definition, then, man is a user of technology by the very existence of consciousness. The conscious self has to direct the physical self and this is accomplished by technology. In this sense, our very bodies are a technological device. This definition holds up extremely well under the perception-bending, post-human technologies of genetic engineering and biomedical implants.

The problem of evil is that the culturally acceptable means of curtailing it are not convergent upon any one solution and many solutions are mutual exclusive. So the real problem of evil is that without an objective framework to ground the experience of reality, there is no such thing as objective evil to which action can be taken. Therefore, the dilemma of resolving the problem of evil in an atheistic worldview is that evil must be perpetrated upon others in order to realize an end to evil for a different (dominant) group.

There is no other possible participation in reality for an atheist. Some may simply choose not to pursue a universal end to evil and settle for resolving evil within their own culture (which logically will be reduced to a culture of one lone individual when this philosophy is pursued to its end, which it won't, therefore the problem of evil is always accommodated to allow for people to have relationships with one another). Therefore, the simplest way to resolve evil in an atheistic worldview, is to define it out of existence once a tolerable level of group cohesion has been reached. This requires adequate resources. Thus even a philosophical resolution is always a technological resolution - lending weight to my definition of man as a technician.

This is the only consistent worldview for an atheist to hold.

Peace,
-sgttomas
Prophet Muhammad (God send peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, "God says 'I am as My servant thinks I am' " ~ Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 9 #502 (Chapter 93, "Oneness of God")

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by Metacrock » Wed Dec 30, 2009 10:38 am

this is an interesting post Ryan (Tom--whoever you are) I'm going to get back to it latter today if I can.
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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by fleetmouse » Wed Dec 30, 2009 12:15 pm

Hey Meta - I laughed so loud at your Platonic patch and gum that I had to explain the whole thing to my wife. :-)

1) Interesting - that reminds me of what I understand of Derrida's metaphysics of presence. One might almost say that when "good" is present as an active force there is "the spirit of the law" - the breath, the word, is present - and when "good" is absent there is only "the letter of the law" at best - pharisaism.

2) A world run by Dawkins would be TEDIOUS. I saw Dawkins confronting Deepak Chopra and as much as I hate Chopra and what he stands for, it was Dawkins who made me wince. Such a twit, such a pedant. An Ayatollah Dawkins would at worst (and it's still pretty bad) badger you to death.

I agree that Christianity is a foundational component of the Western sense of morality, but I take a holistic view of morality so I have to ask what else is involved, and even ask what is foundational to Christianity.

For me, the problem of ethics, atheistic and theistic, is the same as the problem of induction - some academics are trying to find a rational justification for something that doesn't have a reasoned or logical foundation but emerges from practice. Just as we assumed the universe was regular before we could articulate the idea of inductive thinking, we had norms before we recognized that there were norms.

You can ask why we have norms, and why we have those particular norms, but causation is not the same thing as justification. Justification is personal and social - it involves negotiation and communication - in other words, it involves and necessitates the personal presence and active communication of people, a give and take that infuses laws or norms with the very presence that we were talking about in 1).

And that's why I think an axiomatic approach to morality is ultimately reductionist and unworkable, because it disregards the holistic web of meaning and enfranchisement that constitutes a living morality. You won't find morality that way, in an attempt to codify and automate it, and that's why we still have judges and juries as opposed to mere reference works.

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by Metacrock » Wed Dec 30, 2009 12:36 pm

fleetmouse wrote:Hey Meta - I laughed so loud at your Platonic patch and gum that I had to explain the whole thing to my wife. :-)

1) Interesting - that reminds me of what I understand of Derrida's metaphysics of presence. One might almost say that when "good" is present as an active force there is "the spirit of the law" - the breath, the word, is present - and when "good" is absent there is only "the letter of the law" at best - pharisaism.
I like that. good one.
2) A world run by Dawkins would be TEDIOUS. I saw Dawkins confronting Deepak Chopra and as much as I hate Chopra and what he stands for, it was Dawkins who made me wince. Such a twit, such a pedant. An Ayatollah Dawkins would at worst (and it's still pretty bad) badger you to death.
lol Ayatollah Dawkins. Hilarious and yet, frightening.
I agree that Christianity is a foundational component of the Western sense of morality, but I take a holistic view of morality so I have to ask what else is involved, and even ask what is foundational to Christianity.
Good point. You should read about Augustine's revaluation of the values of the empire (City of God). I think it's foundational itself. Christianity I mean. Obviously it's founded in Hebrew and Greek thought.

For me, the problem of ethics, atheistic and theistic, is the same as the problem of induction - some academics are trying to find a rational justification for something that doesn't have a reasoned or logical foundation but emerges from practice. Just as we assumed the universe was regular before we could articulate the idea of inductive thinking, we had norms before we recognized that there were norms.

that's similar to Dorothy Emmet's conclusion. You should get her book (1960s) The Moral Prism. one of the best books I've ever read on ethics.
You can ask why we have norms, and why we have those particular norms, but causation is not the same thing as justification. Justification is personal and social - it involves negotiation and communication - in other words, it involves and necessitates the personal presence and active communication of people, a give and take that infuses laws or norms with the very presence that we were talking about in 1).
I don't think the moral axioms are composites but they are built from constituents goods. Like little goods pile up into big goods. Not composites because they don't just splice together ideas in lump sums but they build with finer building blocks form the most basic level until they result in a edifice.

And that's why I think an axiomatic approach to morality is ultimately reductionist and unworkable, because it disregards the holistic web of meaning and enfranchisement that constitutes a living morality. You won't find morality that way, in an attempt to codify and automate it, and that's why we still have judges and juries as opposed to mere reference works.

you are totally wrong I think. The axiomatic approach is going to be taken by almost all ethicist. that's what people who study ethics all the time agree is the foundation of any ethical system. Axioms are axiological, they build out of values.

what you say about web of meaning is totally off base. Axioms emerge out of the web of meaning complete. They are made up of constituent parts which are the result of values. that is the web of meaning that's exactly what it is.
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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by sgttomas » Wed Dec 30, 2009 7:54 pm

Thanks Meta. The corollary to my post is that any divergence from that pattern constitutes religious behaviour. This is only an archetype of the totally self-interested Atheist who perfectly follows consistently with atheism as that which is not related to Metacrock's idea of the Foundational Beingness of God. Atheism is only defined as a negation to something being divine, so by identifying the most foundational belief with the broadest implication in terms of being sufficient to associate the belief with God, we arrive at the Foundational Being, the Fountainhead of Existence, that which is Beingness for its own Sake, and through which all lifeforms are dependent upon. This is the ultimate subject matter - the meta-statement - of the Anthropic Principle argument from earlier. Omega Point, or God, there is an ultimate end to humanity and this is the notional experience, desire, feeling, awareness, belief, or rule by which we orient good and evil. This is how our language is given that orientation.

Peace,
-sgttomas
Prophet Muhammad (God send peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, "God says 'I am as My servant thinks I am' " ~ Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 9 #502 (Chapter 93, "Oneness of God")

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by fleetmouse » Thu Dec 31, 2009 11:44 am

sgttomas wrote:The problem of evil cannot be conceived of in the same manner as in a theistic philosophy. ....there's no one to be culpable in a metaphysical sense, only in the individual/conscious choice sense, and even then evil is culturally defined. Instead, the problem of evil in an atheistic philosophy is a technological dilemma. The problem only exists inasmuch as it is culturally defined to exist. The solution is to technologically alter the ability of the individual to act out "evil". Having tamed the more egregious acts from the individual, the next order of magnitude problem is optimization of beneficial, or "good" behaviour - again, by technological means.

Here I am using the academic definition of technology as, "a set of instructions related to and indicative of actions pertaining to an established goal and the means by which the goal is accomplished". So technology is more than just the hammer, it is also the education system that teaches one all about hammers and the political system that legislates its use. By definition, then, man is a user of technology by the very existence of consciousness. The conscious self has to direct the physical self and this is accomplished by technology. In this sense, our very bodies are a technological device. This definition holds up extremely well under the perception-bending, post-human technologies of genetic engineering and biomedical implants.
Sarge, you have this habit of taking everything to an extreme until everything means everything else and nothing means anything, and there are so many points I disagree with in your thinking that I cannot dissect and respond to it all in the time I have available to me, so I'll do the best I can. However, you've raised some interesting and insightful points here and I'll respond to what I think are the most relevant. ;)
The problem of evil is that the culturally acceptable means of curtailing it are not convergent upon any one solution and many solutions are mutual exclusive. So the real problem of evil is that without an objective framework to ground the experience of reality, there is no such thing as objective evil to which action can be taken. Therefore, the dilemma of resolving the problem of evil in an atheistic worldview is that evil must be perpetrated upon others in order to realize an end to evil for a different (dominant) group.

There is no other possible participation in reality for an atheist. Some may simply choose not to pursue a universal end to evil and settle for resolving evil within their own culture (which logically will be reduced to a culture of one lone individual when this philosophy is pursued to its end, which it won't, therefore the problem of evil is always accommodated to allow for people to have relationships with one another).
I don't think we're all talking about the same "problem of evil" in this thread. I was asking whether a naturalistic / non-theistic worldview is inadequate to explain the existence of evil. It's a philosophical problem. What you're talking about sounds more like a political or sociological problem. And there is much overlap, but also a great deal of difference, between these things.

Anyhow, I don't think you're taking into account the human facility to learn, grow, adapt and change. You're setting up a scenario in which man runs along like a little robot obeying certain precepts unquestioningly. However, when we encounter other people with a different moral and cultural framework, we don't necessarily engage in a war of civilizations, because we can reflect and learn and adapt, and find common ground - because we are, after all, distant cousins - biologically almost identical, living in the same universe on the same planet and coping with many of the same problems and emotional responses.
Therefore, the simplest way to resolve evil in an atheistic worldview, is to define it out of existence once a tolerable level of group cohesion has been reached.
Or to put it a different way, sometimes we modify or abandon old ideas when we discover new and better ones.
This requires adequate resources.
Yes! I was just reading the same idea in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals -

If the power and the self-confidence of a community keep growing, the criminal law also grows constantly milder. Every weakening and deeper jeopardizing of the community brings its harsher forms of criminal law to light once again. The “creditor” has always became proportionally more humane as he has become richer. Finally the amount of his wealth even becomes measured by how much damage he can sustain without suffering from it. It would not be impossible to imagine a society with a consciousness of its own power which allowed itself the most privileged luxury which it can have—letting its criminals go without punishment. “Why should I really bother about my parasites?” it could then say. “May they live and prosper; for that I am still sufficiently strong!” . . . Justice, which started with “Everything is capable of being paid for; everything must be paid off” ends at that point, by shutting its eyes and letting the person incapable of payment go free—it ends, as every good thing on earth ends, by doing away with itself. This self-negation of justice: we know what a beautiful name it calls itself—mercy. It goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or even better, his beyond the law.

Thus even a philosophical resolution is always a technological resolution - lending weight to my definition of man as a technician.
It may be useful at times to consider man as a technician but we didn't make everything that we are - man is not wholly an artifact created by man - so the analogy has limits.
This is the only consistent worldview for an atheist to hold.
I don't think so. Your conception of man and morality, or your conception of the nontheist's conception of man and morality - are too simplistic. People don't begin with a goal and follow blindly. They learn things along the way and change direction. And besides, who said that consistency was the highest virtue?

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by fleetmouse » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:30 pm

The problem of evil is that the culturally acceptable means of curtailing it are not convergent upon any one solution and many solutions are mutual exclusive. So the real problem of evil is that without an objective framework to ground the experience of reality, there is no such thing as objective evil to which action can be taken. Therefore, the dilemma of resolving the problem of evil in an atheistic worldview is that evil must be perpetrated upon others in order to realize an end to evil for a different (dominant) group.
This actually sounds more like contending groups of fundies than secular humanists, doesn't it? :mrgreen:

And aren't religious techniques technologies? Prayer, ritual, scripture, evangelism, building situating and maintaining places of worship - aren't these all technologies by your definition, sarge?

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Re: Atheism's problem of evil

Post by met » Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:14 pm

fleetmouse wrote:
And aren't religious techniques technologies? Prayer, ritual, scripture, evangelism, building situating and maintaining places of worship - aren't these all technologies by your definition, sarge?
No, cuz it's like ...." if you see the Buddha on the street, kill him"


Those techniques are only trappings of religious or spiritual experiences, not the experiences in themselves, nor even means to those experiences. The goal of those techniques - ie being enlightened or experiencing the presence of God - isn't thought to be accessible by any technological means nor set of instructions, There's never any surefire method.' If and when that happens, it's almost universally viewed as pure gift -- ie something to be grateful and give thanks for, opposed to something that can be achieved by will, force, cleverness or other means.

That's pretty much what people in all traditions are talking about when they they talk about 'transcendence.'
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