Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Mysterious arguments for a tortured God

Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God has been woefully disappointing so far, but with Chapter 6 David Wood shows he's made of more substantial stuff. Although "Responding to the Argument from Evil — Three Approaches for the Theist" appears from the title to be an exercise in theodicy, Wood gets in several shots from various perspectives.

The argument from evil is that the existence of suffering in the world is inconsistent with the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Wood's three approaches are firstly that there are problems with the argument itself; attempts can be made to explain suffering; and arguments can be made for theism that outweigh arguments against it.

One of the problems with the argument from evil, Wood claims, is that it is itself inconsistent. He plays the mysterious ways card, but says this is OK because atheists do the same when they say it's OK that we don't know how abiogenesis happened. (He also, by the bye, lumps this in with an obviously false claim that atheists have no explanation for the complexity of life.)

Another problem Wood identifies is that of ambiguity. Though straying from his main thesis, a point he makes is that "faith" is not belief without evidence — it's more akin to trust. Methinks he is squirming here. He goes on to defining "good", claiming that the atheist definition of good is "maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain". Here's another apologist who ought to read Sam Harris.

Next Wood points out that the argument from evil contains unproven assumptions, amongst which is the assumption that if God has reasons for allowing evil in the world, we assume we would be aware of those reasons. But by saying we might not be aware of those reasons, he's just playing the mysterious ways card again. And in the next paragraph he delivers his double whammy of claiming that these are only some of the problems with the argument from evil, while refraining from listing the others (I wonder why), and that "theists are under no obligation to explain suffering".

Then comes a paragraph about the Christian doctrine that "humanity is in a state of rebellion against God." Unfortunately for his refutation this is a circular argument — and typical of theodicy. Faced with certain facts about the world, theologians are obliged to torture their God into some very strange shapes in order to reconcile him with a multitude of inconsistencies. And if it doesn't ultimately work, there's always the mysterious ways card secreted up a sleeve. Wood proposes free will as one such reconciliation, but there's a good deal of doubt that free will actually exists in the terms used by theologians, and therefore as theodicy it won't hold up. It's interesting to note that all of Wood's arguments here could equally be used in support of Stephen Law's "Evil God".

And just in case we aren't convinced by Wood's refutations thus far, he offers some additional, separate arguments for theism to load the scales of conviction. These, however, look as if he was concerned to make up his word-count, being the argument from design, the cosmological argument and the argument from morality. Given the content of previous chapters, this seems a mite redundant.

So despite a strong beginning, Wood's three approaches ultimately fizzle.


It turns out (yet again) that 4truth.net has a version of this essay. (Did Dembski and Licona do any editing for this book, or did they just pick a whole lot of apologetics articles off a single website?)
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