Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Evidential (Probabilistic) Problem of Evil: Part 2

In the previous post, I outlined the typical trajectory of the evidential problem of evil (EPE), and explicated the nature of what the non-theist alleges that it can show. Further, I explained that as an argument against the existence of God, the person making the argument assumes a burden of proof concerning the assumptions made by the EPE. This burden of proof holds regardless of whether the defender of the EPE acknowledges it. If she declines to defend the assumptions made therein, then the theist might justifiably decline to accept the conclusion of the EPE as probably correct.

One assumption of the EPE is that evils/suffering that we observe are probably gratuitous; that is, that they occur for no purpose. But it seems clear that a benevolent being would not allow evils to occur without having sufficient reason for it. Thus the apparent gratuitousness of some evils, the EPE supposes, presents some evidence that no such being exists. But the theist may have a number of potential replies, such as the reply that evil events present an opportunity for moral growth, and that the opportunity for moral growth justifies the allowance of some evil. Or, for instance, that those experiencing the suffering here and now will be compensated for it later in heaven. Etc…

As I mentioned, atheist philosopher John Loftus articulates the EPE in a way which more or less, he thinks, is immune from theodicies such as these. He asks us to imagine the pre-human world complete with a vicious kill-or-be-killed cycle of animal pain and death. The fossil record is replete with examples of animals which suffered and/or died in painful ways. For instance, we can imagine a little fawn trapped by an approaching forest fire, unable to flee in any direction without being scorched to death. Unable to lay still without suffocating on the smoke. Imagine such an animal trembling with sweat, unable to understand or appreciate any good in its situation. Unable to experience moral growth from its fear and pain. It will not be repaid in heaven.  It will suffer and die after only a few months of life. Loftus then asks what might justify God’s allowance of this event. This is, in brief, what he calls the Darwinian problem of evil (DPE). Suffering and evil for which no free agent other than God could take responsibility; suffering experienced by a creature which is unable to benefit from it, and the suffering of whom appears to benefit no one and nothing else. In other words, gratuitous suffering.

Loftus is aware that philosophers and theologians have not simply ignored the DPE; some have offered responses to it, and Loftus examines some of those responses in the relevant chapter in his book “The Christian Delusion.” Loftus seeks something a great deal stronger than what Alvin Plantinga calls a “defense,” since a defense is more or less a way of reconciling the logical consistency of a set of concepts. The EPE already concedes the mere logical consistency of evil and God. Rather, Loftus expects a theodicy. He expects a plausible explanation of what God’s morally justifying reasons are in fact. A list of what those reasons could be for all we know will not satisfy Loftus. And in “The Christian Delusion” he lays out and responds to a number of theodicies which pertain to the DPE. I will here examine his views point by point.

I’ll begin with some “in principle” observations. First, in my view, Loftus makes the burden of proof far too heavy on the theist. Having done essentially nothing to show that apparently gratuitous suffering is in fact gratuitous, he expects the theist to show to a high degree of plausibility that it is in fact not gratuitous. One might ask Loftus to explain what gives us initial reason for supposing suffering of this kind to be gratuitous. It seems to be because it appears gratuitous. That is, no morally justifying reason readily presents itself. But this relates back to the old saying that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The fact that no reason is obvious to us is not, by itself, evidence that there is no reason. Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence when we would expect to find evidence if it existed. But it does not appear to be obvious that God’s morally justifying reasons for permitting some instance of suffering would be evident to us. Loftus seems to take it for granted that they would be, but he does not defend this assumption. And as per the syllogism I outlined in the previous post, the theist might simply agree that some suffering appears to be without reason, but that nevertheless we have strong independent reason to think God exists, and this undermines the degree to which we see this suffering as in fact gratuitous. That is, we have strong reason to think that God exists, and so we have strong reason to think that suffering like this is in fact purposeful and morally justified, even though we cannot say for certain what God’s purpose is in allowing it.

                So out of the gate the DPE does not appear as problematic as Loftus thinks it is. But there are some other problems with the way Loftus articulates it. Chief among these is that he seems to assume objective moral values and duties, and objective moral culpability. He says that there is no morally justifiable reason for God to allow evils like this. He even calls his problem the “Darwinian Problem of Evil.” Now, evils exist only if there are objective moral facts. If atheism is true, there are no objective moral facts. So if atheism is true, there are no evils. Consequently, Loftus cannot affirm that the allowance of animal suffering is in fact morally evil, since he affirms atheism. But, if animal suffering is actually evil, then moral facts exist and so does God. Loftus is saying that it would be morally unacceptable for God to permit this, but why think this is true? After all, there is no objective moral standard apart from God, and therefore Loftus’ views about what would be objectively bad if objective moral values existed seem to come from…nowhere. Why think that if objective moral facts exist, then the allowance of gratuitous animal suffering (S) is morally bad? He does not justify this assumption, yet it is necessary for his argument to work. He seems to be saying this, “I do not believe that anything is objectively bad in a moral sense. Nevertheless, if something were, then S would be.” If objective moral facts exist, then God exists, and if God exists, then he is the standard by which “good” and “bad” are measured. If so, then God’s moral character is good by definition; there is no external measure of goodness by which we could evaluate God’s permission of something which, to us, appears to be evil.

Loftus thinks the DPE cannot be resolved by an appeal to free will, since human agents were not yet present on the scene. Some Christian philosophers have suggested that Satan bears the blame here; that animal suffering is a consequence of the free-will decisions of Satan, who delights in corrupting and deforming what God has created to be good. Now, this is possible. But is it plausible? Loftus does not think so, because he does not think there’s any evidence that Satan exists. And obviously if Satan does not exist, his free will can hardly resolve the DPE. But it seems to me that one may hear the subtle clank of the goal posts being shifted here. The DPE is a probabilistic argument against the coherence of theism. As such, the atheist must take into account the theistic system which he is criticizing. And the Christian theistic system does include a free moral agents (Satan and the fallen angels) who are present on the scene prior to mankind, and who hate and loathe what God has made. By simply denying that Satan exists, Loftus makes the DPE an argument about the factual status of Christianity rather than the coherence of Christianity. This is, in my view, not a legitimate move.

                As I’ve made clear in my previous post on the logical problem of evil, the act of causing or allowing suffering is not identical with an act of doing something wrong. So by definition, there is no entailment or identity between allowing some instance of suffering and performing an evil act. Hence the DPE as such is not really an argument from evil at all, since not only does Loftus not believe in objective evil, he has not made the case that any instance of suffering God allows is evil, even given the existence of objective moral facts. The argument, then, seems to rest squarely on the shoulders of one huge (and in my view, unwarranted) assumption: that if God existed and had morally sufficient reasons for permitting pre-human animal suffering, we would have knowledge of those reasons. This claim is dubious in itself, but suppose we grant it. As I mentioned, a number of theistic philosophers have offered accounts of what they think God’s reasons might be, and in his book “The Christian Delusion,” Loftus examines and rejects eight of them. So I turn now to an analysis of his examination.

Option One: Animal suffering is a direct consequence of the fall of man, either 1) because animals have always lived with humans, contrary to evolutionary biology and paleontology, or 2) because God retroactively applied the effects of man’s sin to the world and to animals such that animals were created in a state of hostility and competition.

Loftus does not take seriously the first possibility, because he does not consider it to be scientifically plausible. “…such an answer is simply no longer taken seriously by any scientifically literate person…” (p. 244). This may be, but it cannot be dismissed simply on those grounds. Loftus objects that Morris et. al. have to deny the basis of modern science in order to maintain this explanation. Maybe so; but it is nevertheless an adequate theodicy, bearing in mind that it does re-align the three omni-attributes of God. It  simply does not align with current scientific consensus. But is that the only problem with it? Loftus objects that, even if true, it provides no answer for why animals should suffer as a consequence of man’s sin. “What did animals do wrong to deserve this punishment” (p. 244)? This, however, seems to be a fallacious complex question because it assumes that animals did something wrong and that suffering is a punishment for it. The theist must by no means be committed to that.  Another scholar Loftus mentions takes the young earth approach, and seems to admit that the reason is that he cannot explain the suffering of animals any other way. Loftus remarks: “Just look at this biblical scholar squirm, retreat, and take an indefensible position because of the serious nature of the problem natural evil presents to his faith” (245). At this point one might justifiably wonder whether Loftus gets pleasure from seeing this “biblical scholar squirm;” he certainly seems to be seeping disdain, and that is never a good sign when writing sophisticated, highly delicate, and objective analyses . At any rate though, Loftus does make further objection to the young earth approach by stating that it is not even supported by the Bible itself. This was news to me. Loftus says “There is a good amount of biblical evidence [that humans were meat-eaters before the flood]” (p. 246). What is this good amount of evidence, I asked. It seems to basically stem from reading into the biblical texts rather than from doing exegesis. For example, Loftus thinks Adam and Eve must have eaten some of the meat from the animal killed to make clothes for them. Why does he think this? Because otherwise God “just kill[ed] and animal for its skin, like the elephant poacher’s of today’s African jungle do for ivory tusks” (246). This is a bizarre and fallacious approach. It is fallacious because it is an abusive analogy, a type of ad hominem argument. The skin taken from the dead animal for the purpose of protection of Adam and Eve from, for example, the sun’s damaging rays, from wind and cold, etc… is not analogous to the illegal killing of elephants for the purpose of making novelty and luxury items from its tusks. It is bizarre because Loftus already believes that no moral justification can be given for animal suffering (he assumes that the animal killed for its skin in Genesis 3 did in fact suffer, which he does not get from the text), so God would not be any more morally justified in killing the animal for the skin and  the meat than he would be in just killing it for the skin. But that is beside the point. There is no indication in the text that Adam and Eve ate the carcass of this dead animal. That is pure eisegesis. Loftus argues (asserts) that the dominion of man over the fish of the sea seems to make no sense if man was not being given permission to eat fish. Again, that is sheer eisegesis. It is “punting to the possible” as he likes to say, because it is “possible” that that is what the text means. He gives no actual argument that this is probably what the text means. And this seems even more bizarre because, in the verses immediately following this one, mankind is given seeds and plants to eat, and is given authority over “all the earth.” Surely Loftus does not see this as permission to ingest the whole earth… Loftus then wonders why pre-flood peoples would raise cattle if not to eat the meat from the animals. While it is possible that this was the reason, it is equally possible that cattle were kept for dairy and wool products rather than for their meat. In short, it is as plausible to think this than to think what Loftus does, which means he has not carried his case here.

He then discusses Peter Van Inwagon’s “story” about human creatures losing their preternatural powers after the fall. He notes that such a story, although possible, is unsupported by evidence and can be maintained just as a sheer possibility, which is not enough for him. Here I’m tempted by sympathy for Loftus’s view, and I do not blame Loftus for rejecting this theodicy. He wonders why Van Inwagon does not just go the old hard-line creationist way and posit the earth as actually young. But the answer to that question seems fairly obvious: there are some good reasons to believe that the earth is not actually very young. That is an important distinction between Van Inwagon’s story and the young-earth-creationist story. There is actually evidence against a young earth, whereas with Van Inwagon’s story, there simply is not evidence for it.

The next subset of option one is the possibility that human sin antecedently caused animal suffering. Here I think Loftus’ assessment is mostly satisfactory. There are important questions that this view does not or cannot address, and while it is a possibility, the unanswered questions, for me, make it not a preferable position.

Option 2: Satanic corruption of the beasts.

I’ve already addressed Loftus here in some detail, but something more remains to be said. He makes an analogy between God’s permission of satanic corruption of animals and a father letting a pack of wolves into a house full of his children and pets when he (the father) possesses the means to prevent the wolves from entering.  He asks “What could possibly justify this inaction when it’s considered his parental responsibility to protect his children and pets by stopping the wolves…” (p. 251) Loftus means that the father’s actions require justification because, on the face of it, they seem to represent dereliction of his duty as a father. Loftus thinks this is analogous to God. But is it? A human father is responsible on a basic level for providing for the physical safety of his child. It is indeed a gross negligence of this duty to allow wild animals to maul one’s children. But there does not seem to be parity here with God. God’s primary duty, if it can be called a duty at all, is to bring humans to saving knowledge of himself, not to provide comfort, security, or even prolonged life. It is necessary to remember that mainstream Christian theology maintains that every human being who ever lived will live forever. And it is primarily one’s condition in the next life which is God’s concern with respect to humans. The primary concern of a human father is for the immediate needs of the child, and fathers regularly allow children to experience some pain and suffering; in fact, we may desire our children to experience some pain and suffering in order to grow in character and maturity. Now take the Christian worldview: it seems clear that mortal life is a blip on the radar, as it were, and that in the scope of eternity, our sufferings now are trivial, even though they do not feel trivial to us. A child whose father has allowed him to experience a burn from a hot stove, or a jolting fall from a chair may have no frame of reference for his injury. It may feel to him incomparable, the most intense pain he has ever experienced. But from the father’s perspective, which we all grant is a better one, the pain of a slight burn or a bruise is inconsequential when compared to the good which comes from it. Loftus argues as though extended mortal life, and comfort would be God’s primary concerns, but this is patently false. God, if he exists, has a far deeper understanding of what is good and bad for us, and for animals, and it is a mistake to take the greatest concern of a human father and project it onto a creator.

Option 3: Animals do not think and do not consciously feel pain.

Here Loftus relies on Decartes, who argues that animals appear and behave as though they feel pain but actually do not. Descartes thinks they do not because in order to feel pain they would have to have consciousness, and therefore a soul, and Descartes denies that animals have souls. That’s all well and good. Loftus thinks it prima facie implausible (actually he seems to think it ridiculous and absurd) to suggest that animals don’t feel pain. Here, though, he seems to misrepresent Descartes. He acknowledges that Descartes views animals as having “sensation” but not the mental capacity to interpret that sensation as pain, but he spends the bulk of his time debunking Descartes’ followers, who apparently did not think that animals have even sensation. He notes that scientific literature and even many theists themselves grant that animals not only have sensation but feel pain and experience suffering, both physically and emotionally. Perhaps he is right, I don’t know. But more to come on animal sensation later.

Option 4: God does not care about animal suffering.

Here I think I agree with Loftus. I cannot imagine God not caring for the pain and death of His creatures; it is clear that He does actually care, because He commanded man to steward creation by taking dominion over animals. One wonders, though, where Loftus draws the line. Sentience? At what point does an animal become too “low” to experience pain?  And under naturalism, is it the brute fact of pain and suffering which concerns us? If we sedated a dog with a pill, so that the dog no longer could feel and was no longer conscious, would it then be acceptable to vivisect the dog into pieces to watch the sinews and arteries? That seems absurd. In short, I think Loftus really does want to affirm intrinsic value in animals (not to mention people) but his worldview does not have the wherewithal to supply that value.

Option 5: God uses animals for soul- building in humans.

 Here I think Loftus confuses himself. He says that the “soul-building” justification is an explanation of why God does not care about animal suffering. God does not care because He has bigger things to care about. But I see no reason that the soul-building justification should be construed this way. Indeed, one could argue, as I have, that the great value of human soul-building outweighs the suffering animals experience in the process. In this view, it is not that animals are used by God merely as a means to an end and that they have no intrinsic value. It is that the intrinsic value they do have is less than the value of human soul-building. Loftus mainly takes incredulity as his response to this option. He says he’s baffled if Christians still see God as perfectly good and caring in the midst of animal suffering. But the theist may be forgiven for not supposing Loftus’ bafflement to be any kind of argument.

Option Six: God rewards animals in an afterlife for the suffering of this life.

Loftus summarizes three reasons that Christopher Southgate offers for holding this view: that some scriptural texts seem to support it, “that human life is richest when in the presence of other creatures” (p. 258), and that without a resurrection of animals, their suffering in this life would seem unthinkable. Loftus says he doubts “that the first two reasons have any bearing on the existence of a heaven for animals.”  Other than sheer incredulity, does Loftus have a good reason for thinking that Southgate is being disingenuous about his reasons? This seems to me to be a form of question-begging. Loftus is already convinced that no one can offer a good account of animal suffering, so when one is offered, he just doubts that the account is sincere. But the theist could just as easily dismiss Loftus’s arguments as nothing but an attempt to rationalize disbelief in the face of his adultery, humiliation, and divorce. I could express doubt that animal suffering has much to do with his unbelief. We could doubt each other all day long. But this does not seem to be productive. So, Loftus focuses generally on option six, rather than on the specific reasons given for option six. He says that no compensation can morally justify animal suffering. Suppose he’s right that an eternal life for animals is just compensation for pain experienced. I do not see how this is not morally sufficient, since in the Christian view animals in heaven would not be a contingency plan, or a back-up plan. It’s not as though God reserves animal heaven “just in case” something backfires and animals suffer. I do not think in this respect that the problem of animal suffering is any different from the problem of human suffering. Is there anything which could morally justify God’s allowance of human suffering? Well, yes there is. We can see this even on a human level. There is the common example, as I mentioned, of a father allowing his child to touch a hot stove, or fall off a bicycle in order to learn a lesson. Even as humans we see that pain may be permitted and may even be good at times. So it’s not the case that nothing can morally justify suffering. The question is whether animal suffering is qualitatively different in that nothing can morally justify it.

In the Christian worldview, mankind is the pinnacle of creation, having been made in God’s image. But this by no means implies that the rest of what God makes is unimportant to Him. Why think that in a redeemed earth, there will be no animals? Will there be no vegetation, rocks, and soil either? The Bible itself intimates that there will be animals in the redeemed creation: "And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them" (Isaiah 11:6).

Option Seven: A group of related answers including A) It is intrinsically good for God to create from chaos to order; B) That divine hiddenness is necessary for significant human freedom, so that we should not expect to know God’s reasons for allowing suffering.

Loftus engages with Michael Murray here, and notes that Murray himself does not accept all of the explanations in his (Murray’s) book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. Loftus sees this as a problem because he construes it to mean that no explanation offered by Murray is particularly compelling. However, in my view there could be any number of reasons God allows animals to suffer, and the sheer multiplicity of reasons that can be offered should give confidence that the problem of suffering with respect to animals is not as hopeless as Loftus thinks. Further, it is important to note that no single theodicy must account for all suffering by itself; they can be applied in many different but sufficient configurations. And, it’s important to remember that Loftus is not looking for a mere possibility in an explanation; he is looking for a likely account of what God’s reasons actually are. I’d primarily like to point out that I think Loftus has not fully presented Murray’s views here. He said that he would pick what he thought were Murray’s strongest arguments, but there is at least one more that he did not mention, which I mentioned before: that animals don’t really consciously experience pain. Loftus interacted only with Descartes on this, but not with Murray. Murray discusses as a possible precedent in scientific literature the phenomenon of blindsight. With blindsight, a person is able to see, but does not fully realize that they have this ability. They may, for instance, be able to catch a ball thrown at them even though they cannot consciously see it. Murray, I think, suggests that this could be the case with animals and pain sensation. They can react to pain, but they do not consciously interpret it as painful. This allows a cat to flee a burning building out of pain, but not to actually experience the suffering of burns. It allows a cat to exhibit adaptive behavior without the experiences which, in humans, would lead to purposeful, conscious action. If this is true, the problem of animal suffering largely evaporates, although Loftus would probably still ask why God created animals at all. One may even suggest that if God creates animals this way, this is evidence of God’s goodness in equipping animals with survival instincts and mechanisms but not with the ability to suffer from them. I want to read Murray’s own words on this, since I have good reason to think that Loftus has avoided the strongest possible arguments Murray offered.

Option Eight: We should not expect to have knowledge of God’s reasons for permitting animal suffering.

Loftus says that in the end, theists “punt” to this alternative. Loftus is forthcoming with the sports analogies, and thinks that “if all theistic arguments fail, it’s still the case that X” is basically the same as admitting that the theistic arguments fail. This is strange to me because Loftus’s whole argument is that suffering is not what we would expect if God exists. Well, on the other hand, what we might expect is simply not to have knowledge of God’s reasons for allowing things to transpire the way he does. Indeed, under Christianity, this is not only the world that we do live in, it is the world we would expect to live in because of the vast separation of God’s ways from our own. And of course, God’s existence cannot be decided based on the mere observation of animal suffering, because there are possible explanations of it and possible counterarguments. The issue will be decided based on the success or failure of those arguments, or the explanatory power of various theodicies, and based on the whole scope of background knowledge we bring to bear on the issue. Indeed, one may urge the issue against Loftus himself. Is a world in which value and meaning seem so obvious the sort of world we would expect if there actually is neither value nor meaning? Is a world in which the existence of God, or of a supernatural reality seems intuitive and evident to a large majority of people the sort of world we would expect if nothing in reality actually corresponded to those intuitions? And on and on. If we are comparing Christian theism to naturalism and answering the question of whether our observations and experience more closely approximates what we would expect given one or the other of these views, I find it terrifically difficult to see naturalism emerging on top in any scenario. It may still be true however, and that is why the question has to go beyond what we would expect to find if it were true. Because our expectations may just be wrong. Darwinism works the same way. Is a social stigma against rape what we would expect to find if those who spread their seed are the most fit? It seems that the rapist would be more fit than the non-rapist if he is willing to compel a woman to bear his offspring. That sounds quite plausible. On the other hand, societies would wish not to allow their own genes to be diluted and would be at enmity with the rapist for doing so. That sounds quite plausible. So under Darwinism, one can write seemingly plausible but contradictory accounts. Is that flexibility what we would expect if Darwinism is so obviously true that no intelligent person could deny it, as Loftus implies toward the YEC theodicy? Again, we could go on and on. And the bottom line for me is that Loftus has not done enough to show that there probably is not a good reason that God allows animal suffering. He has to do this, I think, because he is claiming that it makes God improbable. But all he seems to have done is state that animals suffer, state that a good God who was both able to prevent and knowledgeable about the suffering would have stopped it, and then stated that God’s existence is improbable. But this is far too slick.

        I’ll sum with some general observations and points about Loftus’s chapter, some of which I mentioned before, but which merit further development.

1. He borrows from theism in stating the problem.

This may sound a bit like a presuppositionalist cliché. After all, it’s not as though Loftus is presupposing absolute moral values and then saying that God violated them. He is saying that The Christian view is internally inconsistent, which is a more modest view. That’s why when I heard David Wood charge Loftus with this, my interest was immediately raised. Wood makes this point, which I have since come to see as a significant problem for Loftus: “Absent a theistic worldview itself, which gives a foundation of objective moral values, how do you know what a morally perfect being would do?” This does not at first seem as troublesome as it is, because the atheist may simply say that they’re presupposing Christian theism in order to show the inconsistency between what God is supposed to be like and what actually happens on earth. Wood’s point is this: under atheism, there is no “good” in an objective way. There is no basis for saying one action has the property of being “good” while another action does not. This does not mean atheism is false, but it does rule it out as a source for knowledge of moral facts. So, if Loftus does not get his knowledge that a morally perfect being would eliminate animal suffering  from his atheism, from where does he get it? Because he certainly does not get it from Christian theism itself. Nothing in Christian theism teaches that God’s primary concern is making creatures comfortable or pain-free.  Furthermore, the Bible itself does propose some reasons that suffering exists. The fall both of the angels and of man, the two-world reality which makes the afterlife of primary importance, the existence of animals in the next life, the primacy of humans over animals, and also the reality that humans cannot be expected to be privy to all God’s plans and reasons. Loftus objects that God, if He allowed this, would not be perfectly good, but he makes no argument for this at all. He just states that a quarter of a million people were killed in such and such a disaster and then asks again whether a omni-benevolent God would permit it. Or he says that his own mother, though far from perfect, would not permit it. Etc… But he does not answer the question. How does he know what an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent being would permit? This question is especially pressing because Loftus’s concept of what “good” is has to be informed by some worldview other than his own, because atheism can’t give an account of moral facts. If he says that he is simply using “good” as it is used under Christianity, then this is not clearly the case. It is no part of Christianity that God’s goodness entails that He minimize or eliminate suffering. This will sound like hair-splitting. After all, do we really need to now ask him to define “good”? Don’t we really all know what good means? Is this not another example of the theist “moving the goalposts” (again with the sports analogies) by redefining “good” so that Christian belief is not falsified? Not at all. Because Loftus is making the positive claim that suffering is a problem for theism, he bears the full burden of proof for showing where the problem lies. And that means that all his presuppositions and the avenues he traverses to reach his conclusion have come in to play (I can use sports analogies too) and can be challenged .And that means that all his presuppositions and the avenues he traverses to reach his conclusion have come in to play (I can use sports analogies too) and can be challenged. And that includes how he contextualizes “good” if the conclusion of his argument is that the being responsible for grounding “good” probably does not exist.

2.  His view seems to reduce to the logical problem of evil.

His final words are that “It does not matter whether human beings or God inflict this suffering upon [animals]. There is no moral justification for it. None” (p. 265). This is logically the same as saying that no offered justification will work, that it is unjustifiable. And that is logically the same as saying that there cannot exist a morally perfect being who could stop but does not stop animal suffering. This seems to be actually no longer an evidential problem of evil; it is a logical one. Loftus’s final words indicate that there is a logical contradiction between the statements “An all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing being exists” and “animals suffer,” since he seems to regard animal suffering as morally unjustifiable. Loftus has not done nearly enough to show a logical contradiction here, because doing so would be equivalent to showing that no possible theodicy could justify it, and that will hardly be apparent, since he’s only reviewed a few of them, and offered straw-man representations of them in some places, and inadequate rebuttals in others.

        3. He seems to ignore the epistemic split between the theist and the atheist.

There are really two problems of evil here. One is how a Christian believer might harmonize theism with the reality of animal suffering. He will most likely require far less explanation than Loftus requires, because he already thinks God exists and is now just looking for some plausible reasons which could be true for all he knows. As Loftus quotes Lewis, from the concept of God we deduce that God has sufficient reasons for permitting animal suffering, even if we don’t know what those reasons are. Perhaps the ontological argument would help here, since it is supposed to establish the existence of a being which is, among other things, morally perfect.  But the other problem is how someone who does not believe that god exists, or positively thinks that God does not exist might view animal suffering. For him, the explanation would have to be very specific and very, very plausible. As Loftus says in his debate with Wood, Wood is asking what reasons God might have, and Loftus is asking whether God exists. Loftus seems to think the theist should be taking the skeptical point of view here, but he’s confused. To someone who already believes that God exists, very little might be required to harmonize that belief with animal suffering. Does that mean the theist expects far too little of a theodicy? I don’t think so. Because we have to remember Plantinga’s work here. Consider a man accused of a crime that he knows he did not commit. Perhaps even all of the evidence indicates that he is guilty, but he is nevertheless rational in maintaining his innocence because he knows that he is innocent, regardless of what the evidence suggests. In this way, someone may be rational in believing in God on the basis of her personal experience of God, even if it appears from nature that God is morally deficient. For this person, the mere possibility of God having a morally sufficient reason for permitting animal suffering will be enough to defeat all of Loftus’s arguments. And rationally so. Loftus does not seem to apprehend this. He seems to think that the theist must jettison his belief and evaluate the evidence as a skeptic would in order to be rational. But consider our analogy again. Must a man accused of a crime jettison his belief in his own innocence, and evaluate the evidence brought by the prosecution as though he were neutral, or even possibly suspicious of his own innocence? Is that the ONLY rational approach to take? Clearly not. He might rationally endeavor to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.  In the same way, a theist may have an experience of God which he is rational to accept regardless of what sort of evidence makes it appear unlikely. The atheist, for him, would have to show that theism is not possible, and that he has to be mistaken in his experience of God. Again, Loftus does not appreciate this point.

So in conclusion, I argue that Loftus makes numerous unjustified assumptions in his exposition of the Darwinian problem of evil, which is a subset of the evidential problem of evil. He confuses his worldview with the Christian one, drawing objective moral facts from Christian theism in order to condemn God as uncaring, immoral, etc… but he rejects that objective moral facts exist. He seems to rely solely on suffering appearing gratuitous, and he does not allow any offered theodicy, no matter how adequate, to overcome this appearance. He unjustifiably privileges the skeptical epistemic position. And in any case his analyses of many theodices are highly problematic.  

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