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12:11 AM
@NotThatGuy Very quickly on your hypothetical: I perfectly understand that it would appear to be unconvincing, but that's because Skeptical Theism is presenting a defense, not a theodicy. It's not meant to convince you of God's existence. It's only meant to expose a fallacy in the atheist's reasoning (in the sense that the conclusion that God does not exist does not follow from the argument).
If you want to be convinced of God's existence you would need separate, independent reasons, and there are many epistemologies within Christianity as to how that could possibly occur.
I think that mysticism or reformed epistemology might perhaps work in your case, if something along those lines happens to be true and you happen to have an encounter before you die.
Although many Christians assert that you would need to put effort into it (lazily waiting for God to reveal Himself to you is arguably a bad strategy, although this brings us back to the issues of the Skeptic's Prayer)
 
12:29 AM
@NotThatGuy Speaking of mystical experiences and divine hiddenness:
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Q: In Christian mystical traditions, is it common to pray for the manifestation of God's power and glory?

MarkThere are a few examples of this kind of yearning in the Old Testament: Exodus 33:17-18 KJV 17 And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. Psalm ...

 
@Mark As I see it, skeptical theism is not presenting a defence. It's saying "I'm not convinced because I don't know" in response to abductive reasoning, which I wouldn't consider to be a valid defence, as I argued above.
For the murderer vs natural causes hypothetical I presented, someone can make an abductive case from every possible angle in favour of natural causes above a murderer, but the other person can still just say "I'm not convinced, because there are still conceivable ways how a murderer could've killed those people for a greater good". If the other person isn't convinced, so be it, but their response isn't engaging with the argument.
It's fine for a skeptical theist to sit outside the debate hall while saying "I'm not convinced". But if they want to come inside and actually have a debate, they'll need to leave that at the door and actually make a case for likely greater goods of suffering.
... or the debate should instead be about whether "it's still conceivable that there's an alternative" is a valid response to abductive reasoning, and I've spent much of this discussion arguing why it isn't.
This is a common problem in theist vs atheist debates, in that often it ultimately comes down to a question of epistemology, and the atheists commonly argue that the theist's epistemology is inconsistent and they don't apply the same standards to God that they apply to everything else, or vice versa (like I've argued here).
 
1:04 AM
@NotThatGuy What are your thoughts on these answers: answer 1, answer 2 ?
 
 
1 hour later…
2:23 AM
Answer 1: That's just saying the atheist haven't yet proven it's impossible for there to exist another interpretation, which is not a valid response to abductive reasoning, and it's not how anyone would think about anything else in any other part of their life, like I argued above.
Saying "God is an expert" is much like the "God is beyond understanding" that I've been objecting to above. That isn't a defence. It's just someone sitting outside the debate hall, like I argued above.
Rowe is not denying heaven. That's included in the first premise. If you want to argue for a greater good based on heaven, do that. But simply saying "what about heaven" doesn't do that.
As for the rest, it's sad to see someone who seems otherwise kind and intelligent so fully embrace some of the most disrespectful, most dismissive, laziest, least intellectually-honest, least open-minded parts of Christianity and debate mindsets. And even that is putting it a lot more kindly than I would really like to.
In any case, just very briefly, Christianity posits evil, so pointing out that "God exists and evil exists" is implausible is an internal critique of Christianity, regardless of whether "evil" exists outside of Christianity. And naturalism has no problem explaining harmful intent and suffering. To say we can't use that is to say proof by contradiction is invalid, yet that's one of the most basic and commonly-used mathematical proof forms.
Never mind that one can use "unnecessary suffering" to avoid the "problem".
Regarding emotional appeal, please see my second-to-last comment. And add in a lot of irony, on account of the many emotional appeals of religion (including on this very topic ffs - naturalism says "bad stuff happens sometimes", Christianity says "actually that just seems bad, but actually it will lead to something so much better and one day everything will be amazing all the time", and they want to say the emotional appeal is the former instead of the latter - are you kidding me?).
In any case, I can't speak for Rowe, but above I presented a careful breakdown of the various possible consequences of various instances of suffering to make the case that it cannot reasonably or even conceivably lead to a greater good. Just because it makes you feel unpleasant emotions to talk about sentient creatures being burnt alive, babies dying from cancer and other unimaginably painful and traumatic things, that doesn't mean there's anything logically unsound in the problem itself.
Never mind how often theists argue that trusting your emotion above reason is actually a good thing... but only when the emotion you're trusting is telling you that God exists and what God wants, and never at any other time (they commonly call it "the holy spirit", but it's functionally indistinguishable from mere emotion).
It's also interesting that in this discussion about a supposedly all-loving God, we're just supposed to completely ignore how utterly sickening and disgusting it would be for such a being to allow all the suffering we see - that doesn't seem like a point in favour of Christianity, if I'm being honest (someone who wants us to ignore the cruel things they do in favour of focusing on their love is what us in the real world would call an abuser).
Answer 2: Keeping in mind what I said about the answerer above, consider that my opinion of this answerer is about 1000 times worse when it comes to how respectful and open-minded they are, and I don't tend to have much inclination to engage with what they say on any level. Is that close-minded of me? Maybe. But how many insults should I take from someone before I'm "allowed" to stop talking to them? If it's just skeptical theism, then I've already responded to that.
 
3:05 AM
@NotThatGuy For clarification, when you ask that your "abductive" argument be properly engaged, don't you really mean "inductive" argument? For example, Rowe makes an inductive argument to infer Q as a "likely" consequence of P, and the typical proper way of defeating an inductive argument is providing a counterexample, although failure to find one so far doesn't necessarily rule out that a "black swan" could eventually be discovered in the future,
or that one exists but given our epistemic limitations we will never explicitly find it.
Actually, another way of defeating the inductive argument is to simply show that a counterexample must exist, even if we are unable to provide a concrete example.
For instance, if we had an independent proof of the existence of a perfect omni-God, since the logical problem of evil cannot be sound, it must be the case that God must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil, even if we are unable to spell out explicitly what those reasons are.
 
4:05 AM
@Mark The difference between inductive and abductive isn't always that clearcut and you can potentially frame an argument as either.
In any case, neither myself nor Rowe is arguing that all suffering is unnecessary (even if that seems to be the case, and even if others might argue this), so a counter-example would not address the argument. We are merely arguing that at least some suffering is unnecessary, and every additional example of seemingly unnecessary suffering increases the likelihood that at least one of those examples is indeed unnecessary.
The negation of "some suffering is unnecessary" is "all suffering is necessary" or "no suffering is unnecessary", and an example of seemingly/plausibly necessary suffering doesn't serve as evidence for the latter. You have it backwards. If someone wants to argue all suffering is necessary, a single counter-example would disprove that. Theists try to argue that all suffering is necessary merely by providing 1 or 2 examples or merely by asserting it to be true. We offer counter-examples in spades.
This is again theists trying to turn how logic works on its head and ask atheists do what's literally impossible. They aren't trying to determine what's true, they're trying to protect themselves from anyone showing that what they believe is false by presenting what would be considered more-than-sufficient evidence in any other comparable situation.
The black swan theory is very commonly misunderstood or misapplied. The crux of the issue is that before people first saw a black swan, they were indeed rationally justified in believing that all swans are white. No-one would've been rationally justified in believing some swans are black (or blue, or pink, or orange), because we didn't have the evidence for that yet.
If anything, that's just a cautionary tale to be open-minded to the possibility of being wrong, and to be aware of this possibility when using or making such generalisations in arguments to conclude other things. But the black swan also doesn't really apply here, because we're not trying to argue that all suffering is unnecessary.
"if we had an independent proof of the existence of a perfect omni-God, since the logical problem of evil cannot be sound" - as addressed above:
yesterday, by NotThatGuy
"Specially if the theist has independent reasons for believing that God exists" - and that may be valid in principle (even if the actual reasons given are severely lacking), but without a valid counter to the abductive case, they'd still have to concede that the problem of evil is a point against God's existence being the best explanation for the evidence, and it's not a small point. This would be true regardless of whether they have more points for God's existence being the best explanation.
Soundness doesn't apply to inductive and abductive arguments. You could argue that an abductive conclusion (which is a premise in the deductive argument) is false (and therefore the deductive argument is unsound) because you have better reasons for thinking the deductive conclusion is false, but you'd still have to accept that the argument makes the case for the deductive conclusion stronger if you cannot directly address the validity of the premises. That's fundamental to abductive reasoning.
 
4:37 AM
@NotThatGuy There is a interesting symmetry between your argument and the abductive argument for the supernatural based on testimonial accounts. A naturalist is committed to the belief that every testimony of the supernatural must have a natural explanation, even if they do not know what the specific explanation is.
Likewise, a classical theist is committed to the belief that every instance of suffering must have a morally sufficient divine explanation, even if they do not know what the specific explanation is.
Similarly, you can pick specific testimonies and attempt to "explain them away", but examining some examples is far from being exhaustive. Symmetrically, the theist can also attempt to "explain away" specific examples of suffering, but that would also be far from exhaustive.
Moreover, if it were possible to establish on independent grounds that naturalism is true, then the whole abductive argument for the supernatural would fall apart in principle, without requiring you to go through each single instance of a testimony of the supernatural: you would be able to rule out in advance the existence of a supernatural explanation because you would already know that a natural explanation must exist (since naturalism is true)
Similarly, if it were possible to establish on independent grounds that the God of classical theism exists, that would automatically undermine your abductive argument from evil because we would know immediately that a morally sufficient reason must exist in principle, without needing to go through each one of your examples in an exhaustive manner (we would be able to rule them out in advance)
 
5:28 AM
@Mark The difference is that even just I myself have taken at least dozens of claimed spiritual experiences and provided plausible and arguably likely (if not most likely) natural explanations for them, based on phenonema that are widely accepted and not particularly rare (such as dreams and hallucinations, if not just false attribution).
Theists seem very strongly averse to doing the same with suffering. I strongly suspect they know they cannot make compelling cases for why some of the worst instances of suffering are actually for the best, so they stick to "I don't know" - that is more honest, but it doesn't refute the argument.
It's also often not clear why there would be a causal relation between someone feeling something or something happening and the actions of some divine being. Often people assert "this was God" and pretty much the best justification they can give for why they think that is "I just know it" or "it was unlikely". You can't make an abductive case using examples that don't even seem to point to your desired conclusion at all.
Also, if you don't know why something happened and I say Zeus did it, does that automatically mean we should go with my explanation? No, I'd need to argue that Zeus exists and how Zeus did it before "Zeus did it" would be an acceptable explanation. The case for (the Christian) God existing would be spiritual experiences (with some reasonable attribution) - problem of evil - divine hiddenness - theological problems - other religions - parsimony ....
I don't much mind granting that some spiritual experiences could contribute some small positive value to that equation, but that seems like a drop against a tidal wave (and it might entirely be cancelled out by parsimony, i.e. Occam's razor, by itself). (This equation is highly oversimplified and shouldn't be taken as an exact representation of how I see the problem, but it's rather just for illustrative purposes to show how things might count for and against the God claim.)
 
5:47 AM
Also, there is a very significant difference here in that naturalists aren't trying to claim anything about what nature is like. Like I argued above, the problem of evil precludes the existence of an all-loving all-powerful God, whereas people thinking they experienced a deity doesn't preclude the existence of a natural explanation for that.
This is a big part of why it's a much bigger problem for theists to respond "I don't know" to the problem of evil, compared to atheists responding "I don't know" to spiritual experiences. The burden of proof is on the theist, and the atheist doesn't need to do anything more than poke holes in the justification given by theists, much like if someone wants to argued that Bigfoot exists, the skeptic would just need to poke holes in any evidence presented (while arguing for parsimony).
(Of course if someone does make the case that God was responsible for some given spiritual experience, that would shift the burden of proof to pointing out problems with that case.)
 
6:08 AM
@NotThatGuy If a person truly had a supernatural experience, that would preclude naturalism. If an instance of suffering truly was unnecessary, that would preclude classical theism. I fail to see how you are breaking the symmetry.
Notice that I'm just talking about the supernatural, not any specific God or deity.
Usually, a person reporting a supernatural experience may argue that it is supernatural for two reasons: (1) the experience felt unmistakably supernatural to them (self-authenticating experience, reformed epistemology, etc.) or (2) they cannot find a natural explanation for their experience, so they abductively attribute it to the supernatural.
But again, the point is that the symmetry remains: for each report of the supernatural, there are two possibilities: it truly was supernatural or it wasn't. Likewise, for each instance of suffering, there are two possibilities: it truly was unnecessary or it wasn't.
Regarding poking holes: there is again a symmetry here. Given an alleged instance of the supernatural, the atheist may play defense and argue that they are not convinced (poking holes). Similarly, when a classical theist is presented with an alleged instance of unnecessary suffering, they may play defense and argue that they are not convinced (argument from incredulity, Holmesian fallacy, you haven't exhausted the search of space of possible explanations, etc.)
 
6:40 AM
@Mark Maybe I should've said "doesn't preclude the existence of nature". Naturalists just stick to the verified natural explanations we have for things (which theists broadly accept too). Theists want to add something in addition to nature, and we reject that until they can explain how that explains the evidence better than what we've already got. You can't just make a claim and have it be automatically accepted because you claimed it. See also "God did it" vs "Zeus did it" above.
Or maybe what I said was fine. I did choose my words very carefully, after all. I said "people thinking they experienced a deity doesn't preclude the existence of a natural explanation for that". As in a theist would need to argued that it was God, not just that people thought it was God, before that could begin to count as evidence for God.
"Supernatural" is roughly meaningless. It's just a term for roughly any existence claim that people make but which we can't verify. It seems very epistemologically flawed to just try to just argue for "the supernatural" generally speaking. We have some intuition about what that is, but it's far too vague to say much about. Here's an answer of mine about "the supernatural".
@Mark There isn't a symmetry because, like I said above, the theist has a burden of proof for their claim, the atheist doesn't. The atheist just needs to make a case for the principle of parsimony - of not accepting claims without sufficient justification, and then they just need to point out how any offered justification is insufficient. You also can't "play defence" against an abductive argument by saying "I don't know"... like I've argued in probably like 50 comments by now. See also:
1 hour ago, by NotThatGuy
@Mark The difference is that even just I myself have taken at least dozens of claimed spiritual experiences and provided plausible and arguably likely (if not most likely) natural explanations for them, based on phenonema that are widely accepted and not particularly rare (such as dreams and hallucinations, if not just false attribution).
1 hour ago, by NotThatGuy
Theists seem very strongly averse to doing the same with suffering. I strongly suspect they know they cannot make compelling cases for why some of the worst instances of suffering are actually for the best, so they stick to "I don't know" - that is more honest, but it doesn't refute the argument.
 
 
1 hour later…
7:59 AM
I'm not sure this critique is made in entirely good faith. The thrust of the discussion seemed to show Theism (in this case Christianity) to be incoherent. The answers show that the formulation isn't satisfiable because the premises don't accurately describe the Christian's belief.

In this first part of your critique, you accuse answer 1 of claiming that "just saying the atheist haven't yet proven it's impossible for there to exist another interpretation". I am uncertain how that follows from the answer. It seems like a new (but related) question.
 
 
1 hour later…
9:16 AM
@NeRoboto That comment was not intended to be a stand-alone criticism of the answer, as much as it builds on a whole lot of things I've said before that. (Although I appreciate that there are probably too many comments here for just about anyone to read all the way through.)
The answer comes down to saying that God might have reasons which we don't understand. Prior to the comment you're referencing, I've argued how this is functionally just "I don't know", it isn't actually a defence against the problem of evil, and it's essentially trying to place the burden on the atheist to prove that it's impossible for there to exist another interpretation. See, for example, this set of comments.
"This is something the Christian believes" - so? Just because someone believes something doesn't make it true. What makes you think that's true? If your only reason is "because the Bible says so", then maybe we should have a discussion about all the other things the Bible also says (much of which you'll presumably try to interpret your way out of, but doing so undermines appealing to the Bible in the first place).
Also, your verse doesn't say anything close to suffering being necessary. If anything, it just says the suffering is negligible, but it certainly isn't negligible in our current reference frame, and that also doesn't explain why it exists at all. Even a fraction of a second of unnecessary suffering within a lifetime would not be consistent with an all-loving all-powerful being, and we have so, so much more seemingly unnecessary suffering than that.
And, if anything, I accepted "in advance" that it's true that suffering is necessary, but then I concluded that I had no good reason to believe that to be true, while I was concluding that I had no good reason to believe any notable claim in Christianity to be true.
I'm not going to ask questions on the Christianity site, because I have no interest in getting bad answers which I'm not allowed to point out the problems with (as per their comment policy). I'm plenty familiar with how Christians try to respond to these issues, thanks. Mark asked me what I thought of those answers, so I told him. He offered counter-arguments, and I offered counter-counter-arguments. That is all.
Various theological problems and apologetics are debates. It's not something you ask a question about, get some answers to and then done (unless you're a Christian who just wants reassurance that what they believe is correct). It's something where someone makes an argument, someone offers a rebuttal, there's a rebuttal to that, there might be corrections, etc. Scroll up and that's what you'll see here. A Q&A is not a particularly good format for that.
 
 
3 hours later…
11:57 AM
Another criticism of the answer: it starts off with "Rowe is critiquing a god that nobody believes in", yet the only description Rowe is basing his argument on is "an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being". This is a very common Christian belief, and the answerer makes no attempt to rebut that. Instead, they disagree with the logic of the argument. Conflating those things is just the typical bad-faith tactics that I see so often in apologetics.
Accusing Rowe of strawmanning is just poisoning the well to try to discredit him for reasons that have nothing to do with the validity of his argument. Even if his logic is flawed, it still wouldn't be a strawman, it still wouldn't be a critique of "a god nobody believes in". It would just be bad logic. That's not the same thing, and it's dishonest to imply otherwise.
Also, the Big Bang example is kinda silly, and arguably serves better as an argument against Christianity, given that you can go dig up research papers that would explain it, find someone to explain it to you, or go study in that field so you can explain it yourself. We can do none of those things for things God can supposedly explain, and I don't see anyone offering any other concrete justifications for why we should think God can explain that, other than just assertions.
The reason we trust scientists is because they follow a robust process involving the scientific method and peer review, and they reliably produce good results. Something similar can be said for any other expert we trust. But we can't say that for God. (Of course people argue that there are other reasons to trust God, but those arguments tend not to go very well.)
 
 
3 hours later…
2:37 PM
@NotThatGuy I see. Thank you for explaining.
 
 
6 hours later…
8:09 PM
@NotThatGuy I'll be very busy for a couple of days, but here is new material you may want to respond to: christianity.stackexchange.com/a/100150/61679
 

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