In light of the handful of criticisms directed at my comments in the post “Why they don’t believe: Justin Schieber“, I invited Justin Schieber to provide a guest-post reply. He has done so in fine fashion. So without further ado, “Justin Schieber responds … and then some!”
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First, I want to thank Randal for giving me the opportunity to do a guest post on his blog in response to his recent criticisms of my brief post wherein I articulated a few of the reasons I find Christianity implausible. I am certain I am not the only one who can appreciate the attitude of openness such an invitation requires. In what follows, I hope to show that Randal’s criticisms of my initial post were stemming from a possible misunderstanding on Randal’s part of the inferences I was making.
Randal begins his criticism with his signature parable artistry, by telling a story of two parents who take their children to separate swimming areas. One parent criticizes the other for exposing their children to the disgusting content of their favored swimming area while ignoring the fact that the place he frequents with his own children is arguably equally disgusting!
As enjoyable as Randal’s parable is, I want to argue that it was ultimately misplaced. My initial post was, as requested, reasons I find Christianity implausible and was not meant to be, in any way, a defense of metaphysical naturalism. I am certainly aware some of the difficulties entailed by naturalism but just as Randal can appeal to seemingly limitless versions of Christianity that don’t hold to certain theological statements, so too can I remind Randal that Naturalism is neither sufficient nor necessary for atheism. Certainly, it is not sufficient if God is natural and it is not necessary since one can reject both naturalism AND theism. Surely, given the limited space, I can be forgiven for limiting my scope to attacking the brands of theism most commonly held by apologists such as Randal while not attempting to give a robust defense of naturalism. But perhaps most damning to the relevance of Randal’s parable is the fact that, unlike the dueling fathers and their germ-laden offspring, my opening criticism of Christian theism was an a priori indictment of its essential complexity rather than an evidential concern. Randal is certainly correct when he writes “Each appear counter-intuitive or even “absurd” to the individual not committed to the belief system in question.” but this is quite a separate matter to the point I was making which is that, the more specific the hypothesis, the less its initial (or prior) probability.
Now to his criticisms of the evidential problem of suffering I wrote about in my initial post.
Recall that in my post I asserted that it is a ‘basic theological truth’ that God, if he existed, would only permit an instance of suffering if it was logically necessary for some greater good to obtain or for the avoidance of some equal or greater instance of suffering. Given the parameters of Randal’s initial request, I should be forgiven for having a mind towards brevity and opting for assertions rather than defenses especially when it was quite clear that I was attacking the Christianities most commonly held by apologists. I am under no illusion that there are many different kinds of Christianities out there today, but I also insist, and it appears the comments on the last post agree, that I am under no obligation to put in a qualifier in each of my arguments for every single view.
Before I get to the rest of Randal’s criticisms, allow me to quote one of Randal’s comments posted in the….comment section…
“Justin doesn’t provide an argument (from William Rowe or elsewhere) to demonstrate that it is likely God does not have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil of the intensity and distribution that we currently find in the world.”
Now let me quote passages from my original post. (I will number these quotes and place them in a proper syllogism for clarity.)
(1) “…Many of the sufferings we know of don’t ?seem like they have a justification in the form of that particular ?suffering being logically necessary for some greater good or avoiding ?greater suffering…”
(2) “…I think a rational person should look at ?the entire history of life on this planet and think, PROBABLY, there is ?at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary…”
(3) “…God would only permit an instance of ?suffering (Or an evil, if you prefer) if it was logically necessary for ?some greater Good to obtain or for the avoidance of some other equal or ?greater instance of suffering…”
(C) “…and so conclude that, all else being equal, PROBABLY, God does not exist…”
I hope now it is clear that I did provide an argument and those familiar with Rowe’s work, will recognize that this version is a kind of combination of Rowe’s versions. Sure, I didn’t place them in clear syllogistic form but I didn’t think that necessary.
Now, to infer from (1) to (2) simply requires an ability to make an inductive inference about the possible justifying Goods that exist in relation to our ability to ‘see’ (using ‘see’ in a broad sense here) such goods. (This is akin to walking in a room, looking very hard for an elephant, not seeing one, concluding that probably one isn’t there.) Hopefully now it is sufficiently clear how the probabilistic inference runs.
Randal quotes me in saying,
“I think a rational person should look at the entire history of life on this planet and think, probably, there is at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary and so conclude that, ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, probably, God does not exist.”
I capitalize ‘all else being equal’ because I think it answers Randal’s last concern.
Randal appeals to the characters of Jones and Smith and their very different background knowledge. Randal says that, while Jones‘ background knowledge points him away from God, Smith’s guides him toward God and so, given their different perspectives, the same evidence can rationally have non-identical effects on their beliefs. He writes, “but it may be rational for Smith to assent to not-p based on his background beliefs and experiences.”
I fully agree.
However, this misunderstands the nature of the conclusion I am drawing. I am arguing that ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, God probably does not exist. In other words, if one believes the probability of God is exactly .5, after the inductive inference from (1) to (2) and given the theological premise, he must adjust his probability that God exists given the evidence downwards if he is to be rational.(Assuming of course that he accepts the Noseeum inference).
I fully agree that the fictional Smith may have other independent reasons that he thinks more than make up for the probabilistic force of the evidential argument from suffering (again, assuming he accepts the Noseeum inference from (1) to (2)), but that is irrelevant when we see that the conclusion was placed in isolation or ‘All things being equal’.
In the words of philosopher Robert Bass of UNC,
“Evil counts against the existence of God, just as crabgrass on the golf green counts against the existence of an efficient greenskeeper.”
Thanks again to Randal for allowing me to respond in full.
Justin Schieber (Doubtcast.org)