In this post, I intend to examine his article, entitled Two Ways of Proving Atheism. In this post, I will show that his proof that God does not exist because of the existence of "gratuitous suffering" fails as a proof. I will not be commenting on the cosmological argument for atheism as stated here, because it's too technical. Plus, after a recent discussion I had with someone on this blog, I've lost confidence in my ability to communicate thoughts on certain abstract subjects.
I think there's a second, separate argument that decisively refutes theism, based on the ordinary logic of induction that we use in our every day lives.
This is a strange note to begin on. Recall that these are proofs of atheism, which are "decisive". It's curious then that Smith wouldn't rely on deduction, which would allow us to come to certain conclusions, instead of the more-or-less tenable conclusions of induction.
This issue is all the more problematic because we're not talking about concrete objects in our physical reality. Quentin Smith wants to move from abstract moral values, which may or may not have objective existence, to the nonexistence of God. This should be an early red flag that we're not getting what we were promised: a decisive proof.
One of the reasons Mackie [found belief in God absurd] is that Mackie found it obvious that if there's evil in the world, no all-powerful and perfectly good being could have created the world.
This is precisely the problem. What may be obvious to one might not be obvious to another. It might just as well be obvious to me that, if God exists, He must have a perfectly good reason for allowing moral evil in the natural world. How then are we supposed to descriminate between either option in an assured, decisive manner?
Suppose God is all-powerful and is capable of killing the Spanish influenza virus before it killed off twenty million people. Why didn't He? Is it because He's not perfectly good? Because He does not care enough about human beings? That is no god. Sounds like more an evil being governs our universe. So that's just one example of many gratuitous evils in the universe.
This statement is presented as if the only possible answer to the question of, "Why didn't an all-powerful God prevent gratuitous evil?" is, "Because He's evil himself!" In the absence of a conclusive argument to the contrary, we can conclude that it might be the case that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering. In case God does have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, we aren't forced to conclude that God is evil for allowing evil. Neither are we forced to conclude that God isn't powerful enough to put an end to evil.
Of course, Mr. Smith anticipates this repsonse - sort of.
So how do theists respond to arguments like this? They say there is a reason for evil, but it is a mystery.
Mr. Smith has nearly correctly stated the standard response to the question of evil. I say "nearly", because I don't think that any thoughtful theist would use the word "mystery". It simply leaves too much room for interpretation, and brings to mind thoughts of magic. Which leads to criticisms like this:
Well, let me tell you this: I'm actually one hundred feet tall even though I only appear to be six feet tall. You ask me for proof of this. I have a simply answer: it's a mystery. Just accept my word for it on faith. And that's just the logic theists use in their discussions of evil.
Before I can point out the illogic of this statement, here is how the theist should reponse to the question of evil: God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. As Craig would say, if this is even possible, then we aren't forced to conclude that God does not exist if evil exists.
Now, what is the problem with Mr. Smith's statement? It's little more than apples-and-oranges. When Mr. Smith claims that he is 100 feet tall, we have a way of verifying his claim. After verification, we may conclude that he's either a liar, or insane.
This doesn't apply to the theist's claim that God might have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. We cannot put a moral ruler to God and prove that He doesn't measure up. In the absence of some way of verifying the claim that God isn't as morally-tall as theists would like to think - like say a deductive argument - this simply fails as a counterargument, not to mention as a proof of atheism.
At this point, the argument becomes probabalistic at best. That is, we might conclude that because of evil, God probably doesn't exist. However, as a strict, decisive disproof of theism, this doesn't hold water. Further, the theist has overriding reasons to believe that God does exist, whether it be physical evidence, arguments, and so on. Therefore, the theist is reasonable to ignore the probabalistic form of this argument as "too little, too late".
In fact, there's a strict disproof of theism that uses the ordinary logic of induction we employ in our everyday lives. If we have evidence that something exists, we say it probably exists. If we see dark clouds approaching, we say it will probably rain. But if we no evidence for something, we admit that it's merely possible that it exists, even though it probably does not exist.
This seems to me to be contradictory. How can you disprove the existence of something, and then conclude that it possibly does exist?
Also, I'm not sure how this arguments fits into the greater tapestry of the article. Is Mr. Smith trying to imply that, unless we find a reason for gratuitous evil, we have no reason to believe that God exists? Are we simply to ignore arguments in favor of God's existence? For instance, any possible physical and historical evidence that might verify God's existence? I don't see why an inductive argument, which seems so weak to me, should cause me to discard the other reasons I have for believing in God.
If God exists, a being who is all-powerful and perfectly good, then this being must somehow ensure our world is perfectly good.
This is really just a baseless assertion. As I've already pointed out, it might be the case that God has a reason for allowing evil. If that's the case, then He has no obligation to ensure that our world is "perfectly good". Worst yet, I think there are problems with Mr. Smith's concept of a perfectly good world. Take a look:
The only way He can do this is to make all of the apparent evils we see in the world into means to a greater good. For example, the pain of a vaccination is in itself bad, but is a means to a greater good.
It seems to me that Quentin Smith's idea of a perfectly good world involves any apparent evil being done for the greater good. However, how can a perfectly good world contain evil as a means for good? Wouldn't a perfectly good world lack evil altogether?
Furthermore, this highlights all sorts of epistemological problems. A child may not understand the "why" of a vaccination, but despite the pain of the needle, isn't the vaccination still for the best? Why should we be so sure that the pain of this life isn't for the best?
Either way, this doesn't matter, because Mr. Smith has not explained why it is necessary that God should make our world perfectly good.
Now the theist might respond that there may be some greater good we don't know about. But notice the theist says, "there may be some greater good we don't know about." Well sure there may be some greater good we don't know about. Anything is possible.
Good so far.
It is possible there is an elephant stomping through my house. It is possible that Elvis Presley is alive and is doing the twist on the dark side of the moon. But the fact that something is possible does not show it is the least bit probable.
If the notion that God has a sufficient reason for allowing evil is really as absurd as these examples, then I suppose I won't argue that we might as well conclude God does not exist. However, the theist has other overriding reasons for believing in God, so that I don't think this argument holds sway on inductive grounds alone.
At least, as an inductive argument, this reasoning cannot qualify as proof of the nonexistence of God. There is a big difference between me concluding that Elvis probably isn't tapdancing on the moon, and proving that Elvis isn't tapdancing on the moon.