This is a wrapup of the debate between Mentionable Tyler Vela and atheist Ben Watkins of Real Atheology. This debate took place during Mentionable: The Conference 2018 Tyler contends that suffering makes sense of God, whereas Ben makes the case that suffering is evidence against the existence of God.
Ben's Handout from the debate:
What is Tyler Arguing?
Tyler’s Major Contention: Biblical theism does make good sense of facts about suffering.
Tyler’s Minor Contention: Biblical theism is the best explanation for facts about suffering.
What is Ben Arguing?
Ben’s Major Contention: Biblical theism does not make good sense of facts about suffering.
Ben’s Minor Contention: There is a much simpler and much more accurate hypothesis which better explains facts about suffering than Biblical theism.
The Relevant Concept of God
The Supernatural Agent Thesis: God is a single, disembodied mind.
The Perfect Being Thesis: God is a perfect and personal being who is always worthy of our worship. Such a being would have the essential divine properties of:
· Omnipotence: God has the ability to perform any logically possible act of which the description is coherent. God is only restricted by logical limitations.
· Omniscience: God could only have true beliefs about the world and about what matters. God would know all true propositions that it was logically consistent to know.
· Moral Perfection: God would always perform morally permissible acts, and never perform any morally wrong acts. God’s goodness would not be deficient in any way.
· Divine Love: God’s love for finite creatures would be infinite, inexhaustible, and unsurpassable. Such love would involve universal benevolence towards, and universal caring for, the well-being of finite creatures (this includes non-human animals!).
The Biblical thesis: The only perfect and personal disembodied mind who is always worthy of our worship is the god of the Bible.
The Hypothesis of Biblical Theism
(1) God is the supernatural agent, who created all sentient life,
(2) God is a perfect and personal being always worthy of our worship, and
(3) God is identical to the central figure described in the Bible.
Additional Content of Biblical Theism:
-The Biblical god has revealed Himself through the person of Jesus Christ.
-There is an afterlife, and the only way to gain access is through belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ.
-Man is in a state of rebellion against God, and lives in a fallen world because it suffers from Original Sin.
The Hypothesis of Universal Cosmic Indifference (UCI)
UCI: Sentient life in the cosmos is not the result of malevolent or benevolent acts by disembodied person(s). UCI is the Better Explanation because,
Theoretical Simplicity: UCI is a much more simple explanation than Biblical theism. Simplicity is determined by modesty, coherence, and nothing else.
Theoretical Accuracy: UCI is a much more accurate explanation than Biblical theism.
Theoretical Modesty: if some hypothesis is more modest than another, then this hypothesis has less content that is not merely a part of our background knowledge and is not known by rational intuition alone. All else being equal, the hypothesis with more content is more likely to be claiming something false making it less likely to be true.
There are at least three ways Biblical Theism could be false:
(1) if any of the essential theological claims of Biblical theism are false, then Biblical theism is false. Perhaps Allah, the god of Islam, is the only perfect and personal being always worthy of our worship.
(2) If the perfect being thesis is false, then Biblical theism is false. Perhaps some form of deism or polytheism is true.
(3) If the supernatural agent thesis is false, then the Biblical thesis and perfect being thesis are both false. Perhaps some form of pantheism or metaphysical naturalism is true.
Theoretical Coherence: If some hypothesis is more coherent than another, then this hypothesis’ parts fit together better. All else being equal, the better the parts of a hypothesis fit together, the more likely it is to be true.
An Inconsistent Tetrad
(1) Acts of God can be neither morally wrong nor unloving.
(2) The Bible is a generally reliable account of the acts of God.
(3) The Bible describes God apparently causing, condoning, or commanding undeserved and uncompensated suffering.
(4) It is morally wrong and unloving to cause, condone, or command undeserved and uncompensated suffering.
Explanatory Accuracy: Some hypothesis is more accurate than another if it is better at predicting or retrodicting the datum in question. All else being equal, the more accurate hypothesis is more likely to be true.
Facts about Suffering: The Biological Role of Pain
Fact1: Our experiences of pain, and those of other non-human animals, are systematically connected to the biological goals of temporary survival and reproduction.
Fact2: The long process of biological evolution is a chaotic, inefficient, and inevitably cruel means for producing sentient life.
Fact3: From an impartial point of view, the distribution of pain in the universe appears to be mostly random and inscrutable.
Facts about Suffering: Sentient Flourishing and Languishing
Fact4: For many species to flourish, others must suffer in agonizing ways.
Fact5: Most sentient life throughout the millions of years of sentient history have languished before dying, because they were in savage competition with one another for limited resources.
Fact 6: While alive, only a fraction of sentient beings manage to flourish.
Fact7: Of all species of animal which have lived on Earth, 99.98% have gone extinct.
Facts about Suffering: The Horrific Tragedies of Finite Persons
Fact8: Our world contains many instances of horrific suffering so intense that the victim(s) or perpetrator(s) believe their life is, on the whole,
no longer worth living.
Fact9: Horrific tragedies often destroy a person physically, psychologically, and/or spiritually.
Fact10: Many people report never feeling a loving god’s comforting presence during horrific tragedies.
The Evidential Argument from Evil
(A) There are at least ten known facts about suffering.
(B) We have much more reason to predict these facts if we assume UCI is true than if we assume Biblical theism is true.
(C) UCI is also a much simpler explanation than Biblical theism.
(D) Other things being equal, facts about suffering are strong evidence counting in favor of UCI being true and counting against Biblical theism being true.
A Final Question
Who should we think is responding to reasons correctly and who should we think is merely attempting to explain or justify their beliefs with logical, plausible reasons, even if these reasons are not true or appropriate? Which of the following is more plausibly true and the other more likely the result of some mistake:
(E) Suffering has no deeper explanation other than some combination of chance and necessity. Facts about suffering appear to be random and gratuitous, because they really are random and gratuitous in a universally indifferent cosmos.
(F) Suffering does have a deeper explanation as part of a disembodied person’s divine plans, specifically, the god of the Bible. The cosmos may appear to be universally indifferent to our suffering, but any such appearance is merely illusory.