Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 17 and 18

Continuing on, the next post again contains two points.  The first point is one where he actually mostly combines two different points.  The title is about religion have no way to determine truth, but he immediately dives into a different argument:

From the standpoint of many Christians, evidence is mere decoration. It’s the parsley on the plate of the Christian argument.

This isn’t an argument that says that Christianity doesn’t have a method to determine truth or that it in fact isn’t true.  It merely says that many Christians don’t base their beliefs specifically on any kind of evidence, which could be used to imply that Christianity, in general, doesn’t care about evidence.  Which would be the common notion of faith, in that faith at least requires you to believe in something more strongly than the evidence suggests you should.  Of course, this argument would contradict Seidensticker’s point as they would indeed be claiming to have such a method, even if it wasn’t evidence-based.

But as I’ve been reading Edward Feser a bit lately, I have to point out one of his arguments, which is that even if some Christians act on pure faith, there are arguments for the existence of God and many Christians and many Christian faiths rely heavily on them.  This responds to his comment:

Craig says, “The experience of the Spirit’s witness is self-authenticating for him who really has it.” Okay, then who really has it? Does Craig have it? Maybe he’s wrong to think that he does. Maybe someone he’s dismissed as unworthy of God’s favor has it instead. There is no public, objective algorithm that we can all apply to see who has been touched by the Holy Spirit. It’s not an evidence-based process.

And when you return his theology to the spotlight, the usual questions return. Does the Holy Spirit (or any member of the Trinity) exist? When two Christians (or Christian denominations) disagree, which one is correct? Of the mountain of supernatural claims made by the world’s religions, which are correct? Religion gives you no way to answer these questions reliably.

Answering these questions is the purview of theology and philosophy of religion, and they’ve proposed a number of ways to go about it, from the more purely philosophical approach of people like Feser and Aquinas to the empirical methods of natural theology.  So all Seidensticker can say here is that they haven’t converged on an answer yet.  But we must note that for pretty much any view that has a major philosophical component, converging on an answer has … not been forthcoming.  Science crows over its success at solving the relatively each questions that can be solved by looking at the world and thinking about it a bit, meaning the questions that are most directly empirical.  God is not that sort of question.

So it’s ridiculous to hold the idea that there is no method for religion to arrive at truth against it.  We have all sorts of other methods for determining truth that can be used to assess it.  The only reason to ever bring this up against religion is if those methods can’t tell us what the right answer is, and even then that doesn’t mean that there is no one true religion that’s right about God existing and what God that is.  So this is not a silver bullet since, again, it doesn’t actually show that God doesn’t exist.

If we lived in God World, we’d know it because supernatural truths would be reliably accessible to everyone using reason and evidence.

Which boils it down to the real objection:  if God exists, His existence should be more obviously true to Bob Seidensticker (because there are a number of theists who insist that it is obvious to them) using only the methods that Bob Seidensticker agrees we should use.  This is not an argument that will have any impact on the belief of any theist, unless Seidensticker can argue that we should have found it with specific other existing methods … which then would be the silver bullet argument, not this one.  Add in that God may want to leave room for faith so that He can have worshippers who trust in him and that faith is not necessarily a bad thing, and this argument really doesn’t get off the ground.

The next argument is essentially another version of “The Problem of Suffering”:

God’s marvelous plan is not that marvelous. Eight million people have died from natural disasters since 1900.

When we fight against natural disasters—stack sandbags against a flood, create vaccines, or warn people about hurricanes—are we subverting God’s plan? How can Christians hold in their heads these two contradictory ideas: God’s plan is to kill millions by natural disasters and we should do our best to subvert that plan? What does it say about the vagueness of God’s plan that we even have to ask that question? (More here.)

He goes on to suggest that it’s easy to see how it could be done better:

And if earthquakes are necessary, God could just clip their magnitude. The energy of a magnitude 8 earthquake could be channeled into 10,000 magnitude 5 earthquakes. Tornadoes could be steered away from towns. Rain storms could be spread out to avoid flash floods. Droughts and locusts could just be eliminated. God is magic, remember?

This, however, runs into the problem with all “Problem of Suffering” arguments (which is an argument that was converted from the old “Problem of Evil”), which is that ultimately end up asking for a perfect world, and God is explicit in Genesis that this is going to be a world where we will suffer, and suffer quite a bit, because of eating the forbidden fruit.  So if the argument ends up demanding a perfect world, then it won’t work against Christianity, since it both says that we won’t have one and also why we can’t have one.  You may not accept those explanations, but they will make Christianity internally consistent, at least, and at the same time nullify the argument as one that can be used against it.

So, how does this end up with a perfect world?  Well, Seidensticker asks why God simply couldn’t make these things just a little bit less destructive.  Spread out the earthquakes a bit more to make them less damaging.  Steer disasters away from populations.  And so on and so forth.  So let’s say that we have smaller but more frequent earthquakes (and that itself doesn’t cause us more mental suffering from the frequent earthquakes we’d have to be experiencing).  These will still destroy some things and probably kill some people.  So why, then, wouldn’t people like Seidensticker simply turn around and ask why God couldn’t reduce them to more frequent but lower magnitude ones?  And eventually, to just getting rid of them entirely?  After all, as he says, God is magic, right?  So what happens is that the atheist asks for God to eliminate just one source of suffering, and since God won’t do that He must not exist.  But if God did that, then the next greatest natural cause of suffering will suddenly be the greatest one, and in that world the atheist will ask for God to eliminate just that one source of suffering, and so on and so forth until the atheist ends up asking for no suffering at all.

This is a unique problem to the “Problem of Suffering” that wasn’t shared by the “Problem of Evil”, because the “Problem of Evil” was based on an argument that God Himself could not create an actual Evil thing — as Goodness flowed from his nature — and so the existence of anything Evil contradicted God’s nature.  Now that we understand that Evil itself isn’t really an existent thing in and of itself — and that’s not just a theological notion of Evil being a privation, but a philosophical one of Evil not being an entity itself but being a classification of the moral character of entities — that won’t work:  God may create things — us — that can be Evil, but doesn’t create Evil itself.  So atheists have moved to the “Problem of Suffering”.  But suffering isn’t necessarily bad, so they have to make a link instead to the idea that God could eliminate the suffering, and that someone who can eliminate suffering but who chooses not to is at least immoral by the morality we think God is demanding of us, and so God would be immoral and so at least not the Christian God.  But as noted, the atheist argument is one that can be made for all suffering, and no one would argue that God must eliminate all suffering.  So to make it work, the atheist needs a way to separate the suffering that God could allow from the suffering that God couldn’t allow.  And that may well be the world we already have.

But does that mean, then, that we, ourselves, shouldn’t prevent suffering, as that’s part of God’s plan?  Unlikely.  First, we aren’t capable of eliminating all of it and so don’t have the same issues that God would have, eliminating all of it and so foiling the purpose.  Second, it’s pretty likely that the purpose of suffering in this world is for us to react to it in a moral way, which means for us to have to decide if we try to prevent it or if we don’t.  So because we can’t eliminate all of it, it’s almost certainly actually God’s purpose of allowing suffering in this world that we try to alleviate it whenever we can.  So, no, there’s really no risk of us foiling God’s plan, so no reason why we shouldn’t try to alleviate all the suffering we can.  As already noted, that’s not true for God.

While suffering does raise some doubts, it’s clearly an argument from emotion — how could God allow this? — than from reason and evidence.  And an argument from emotion cannot be a silver bullet argument.

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One Response to “Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 17 and 18”

  1. Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 19 and 20 | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Continuing on, the next post contains arguments 19 and 20.  Argument 19 is basically an argument that says that Christian arguments are at best deist arguments: […]

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