3/20/09

Quentin Smith - The Gratuitous Fallacy, part I of V

This is the first part of a five part essay responding to Quentin Smith’s assertion “that the existence of gratuitous evil proves atheism.”[1]

Part I: On Obviously Gratuitous Evil
Part II: Emotions in Motion
Part III: Theism By Proxy
Part IV: The Illusion of Gratuity
Part V: Atheism Makes Evil Worse

On Obviously Gratuitous Evil:
We must begin with the very concept itself: that of “gratuity” and that of “evil.”
How does Quentin Smith know what is evil, how has he arrived at his definition?
How does he know that evil can be, or is, gratuitous?

Moreover, note that he is seeking to prove “atheism” so he must be seeking to prove a mere lack of god(s) belief—right? If that was the case he would mere have to say, “In order to prove atheism I will declare that I lack of god(s) belief—done!”
Apparently, he has something else in mind and I would deeply appreciate it if some of our atheist readers would email him in order to correct him on this point and to explain to him that he is misrepresenting atheism—please send me your email exchange and I will be more than pleased to post it.

It is perhaps to be stated that arguing about evil, which is to say logically dissecting the concept, is a difficult uphill exercise. This is because evil, often in the form of violence, pain, sickness and suffering, is so very real to us all that it comes across as cold blooded to deal with it as a logical question. In other words, evil is such a, rightly, emotionally charged topic that putting logic up against it seems heartless, useless or a mere intellectual exercise.
How do you argue against an emotion? We are pitting tangible sensations against ethereal concepts. In such discussions atheists often tells touching tales of evil such as a little innocent child who suffers terribly for years from a disease that very slowly killed her while leaving the theist to make logical points.
Do you see the disparity? Can you feel it? Certainly, upon being moved by such a story who is even listening long enough to give reason a hearing? Who could possibly argue against such harsh realities?
These are just preliminary thoughts on how difficult it is to argue against emotionally charged statements, as valid as they may be. It seemed to me vital to keep this in mind.


Quentin Smith wrote:
“The famous British philosopher John Mackie said that if there's any miracle in the world, it's that so many people actually believe God exists. One of the reasons Mackie thought that this is the case 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 simple statement is packaged with various presuppositions and fallacies. I may be reading too much into the term but I found it very telling that Quentin Smith employed the term “obvious.”
Firstly, it was obvious that there is evil. This is a presumption since it is declared to simply be obvious. Atheism tends to argue to brute fact whereby things such as morality, life and the entire universe just are. It is also an esoteric appeal to the argument from outrage. Atheists often argue about morality, against evil, to the likes of “I don’t like…” or “I don’t agree with…” or “That’s just wrong” or “I have a visceral dislike of…” Of course, these are mere expressions of personal opinions which carry neither weight nor consequences when they are violated.

Secondly, it was obvious that since there is evil in the world, no all-powerful and perfectly good being could have created the world.
This is presumptuous on various levels:
They are claiming to know the reason or lack of reason for any and every evil event and claim to know that it was gratuitous.
They are claiming that there is no possible reason for a good being could have created a world which contains evil.
They are defining “good” in an unrealistically utopian manner.
Et al.

[1] Quentin Smith, Two Ways to Prove Atheism

11 comments:

  1. I may be reading too much into the term but I found it very telling that Quentin Smith employed the term “obvious.”
    Yes, you are reading too much into it. From your quote its clear that the word "obvious" comes from Mackie, not Smith. Smith "employed" the word to quote or paraphrase his understanding of Mackie's opinion. It seems to me your real beef is with Mackie.

    On the other side of the coin, is there any good in the world that you attribute to your notion of god that can be shown not to be gratuitous, that aren't "mere expressions of personal opinions which carry neither weight nor consequences when they are violated"?

    But, rather than shadowboxing with ethereal concepts like these, perhaps it would be more productive, educational and entertaining to talk about something more substantive, like this: Born believers: How your brain creates God.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "We are pitting tangible sensations against ethereal concepts. In such discussions atheists often tells touching tales of evil such as a little innocent child who suffers terribly for years from a disease that very slowly killed her while leaving the theist to make logical points.
    Do you see the disparity? Can you feel it?"


    Here's another tale of evil, and I'll let A.C. Grayling tell it:

    "But the HIV/Aids tragedy of Africa is only the tip of an iceberg. Opposition to control of family size in the poorest part of the world condemns women to endless pregnancies if they are not – as many are – killed or incapacitated by childbearing in difficult circumstances. The difficulty of looking after numerous children in abject poverty is, on its own, a grinding oppression, to say nothing of the immense barriers to the opportunity for decent lives later on for the children. These brutal facts are as nothing to the Pope: in his view the blight of too many pregnancies, too many children, infant mortality, starvation, disease, poverty and immiseration is all part of the deity's plan. For anyone who goes by evidence, if there is a deity, this suggests that it devotes its spare time to pulling wings off flies."

    The deification of stupidity

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, the paragraph in this post that starts with "Firstly," is, shall we say, bogus and should be discounted completely. I did not read (nor do I intend to) Smith's argument but it is 'obvious' that Mariano's comment about the use of the word 'obvious' is obviously incorrect. The Mackie quote did not say what Mariano said it said.

    Also, as in the case of the previous cosmological article, I disagree that the 'problem of evil' proves that atheism is true. Atheism is true simply and only because theism has not been shown to be true. It is that burden of proof thingy. The 'problem of evil' does not prove that all gods don't exist but only that certain conceptions of gods have a great deal of internal inconsistency.

    Now generally the inconsistency that the 'problem of evil' is assumed to point to is that of a quad-omni god (omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent and omnipotent) would never create the world we live in because of the horrible things that can happen in our world. After all, anyone of us - given those powers- could have done a better job. However, Mariano does have a point: it could be that there is some mysterious and unknown reason that there has to be natural disasters. (Or it could be because God lacks the fifth omni: omnicompentence.)

    The real inconsistency of the 'problem of evil' is not with the general theistic concept but with the specific theistic concept of the Garden of Eden and the Fall (the literalistic interpretation). To start off with we should ignore all the 'evil' that is not of human origin. Personally, I think that it is a misuse of the term to apply it to any thing that does not have a moral agent involved. Having a city devastated by a hurricane is tragic, blaming that hurricane on the people that support equal rights for gays is evil. (Actually, I prefer to even reserve the term 'evil' to be used just for those decisions that are so over the top that no reasonable person would think they are justified but for this discussion we can use it in a more colloquial fashion.)

    I'm going to ask that you just accept my opinion that making moral decisions is an integral part of what it means to be human. We can leave to another day the discussion of what moral decision making is and how it came to be. So, if moral decision making is indeed an integral part of being human, then Adam and Eve before the Fall were really something other than Human. (Also, if there were 'lions' in the Garden but they didn't hunt and kill, then they were really something other than lions.) What is totally logically inconsistent is the idea that a Quad-omni god would create these not quite human Adam and Eve, desire that these not quite humans remain as they are and, at the same time, set up the means that that desire can be easily and predictably thwarted. To put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden was just plain stupid unless the intent was for A & E to eat thereof. So, hence the logical inconsistency: either that God intended for A&E to eat the fruit and thus didn't create them the way he wanted in the first place or he did intend for them to eat the fruit as part of the overall design (in which case, his anger was just a sham) or he was just stupid. That concept of God is just logically inconsistent.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mariano: since you did not allow me to post my quite polite reply at the previous topic, I will try here. I just want to say goodbye and I wish you all well. There's no real discussion possible here, so I will not try again.

    My invitation to all of you, atheist or theist, still stands: if you're ever in my part of the world, look me up and lunch is on me.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

    ReplyDelete
  5. My comment is off-topic, but it could be of interest of the readers of this blog:

    Atheist philosopher Julian Biaggini (author of Atheism: A very Short Introduction) has wrote an article entitled "The New Atheist Movement is destructive":

    http://www.fritanke.no/ENGLISH/2009/The_new_atheist_movement_is_destructive/

    Dr.Biaggini is also editor of the The Philosopher's Magazine.

    Christian philosopher Peter Williams wrote a review of Biaggini's book some time ago:

    http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_chafffromwheat.htm

    ReplyDelete
  6. As usual atheists have it backwards. Evil in the world is actually evidence for the Biblical narrative. This world is under a curse. Genesis chapter 3 covers the existence of evil in the world. What atheists are really complaining about is Gods mercy not his justice.

    If God did what was just he would do a repeat of the great flood and just wipe us out of existence. Apparently atheists are terribly upset to be alive. They whine incessantly about God mercifully giving mankind a chance to repent and receive eternal life without deserving it. Astonishingly they long for what they deserve.

    They are welcome to it. Instead of screaming for justice, I'll be prayerfully begging for mercy.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Genesis, all chapters, is a myth. It is evidence of nothing beyond the ability of bronze-age Jews to spin fine yarns, like everyone else.

    ReplyDelete
  8. man how stupid are the posters here? look at what this guy said?

    Also, as in the case of the previous cosmological article, I disagree that the 'problem of evil' proves that atheism is true. Atheism is true simply and only because theism has not been shown to be true.

    First off you can't equate whether something is proved with its ability to be proved, secondly that is an argument from ignorance, if we assume your statement is correct(all we can do is assume at this point) and theism has not been proved, that does not automatically make atheism proved, that is a text book argument from ignorance, which is a logical fallacy.

    Atheist logic strikes again.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "First off you can't equate whether something is proved with its ability to be proved,..."

    I agree but this is a non sequitur since I didn't make that claim nor did anything I wrote imply it.

    "...secondly that is an argument from ignorance, if we assume your statement is correct(all we can do is assume at this point) and theism has not been proved, that does not automatically make atheism proved, that is a text book argument from ignorance, which is a logical fallacy."

    You are quite mistaken about the idea that a lack of sufficient reason to accept theism is not atheism. Atheism in the broadest sense of the word is just the lack of belief in theism. Sure there are many people that meet this minimum threshold and then go further (such as deny that all gods exist). This is not unlike the idea that theism is a broad category that includes not only the belief is some vague and undefined 'higher power' but also the belief that a god exists that decides who wins football games based on the prayers of the fans and players.

    Austin Cline has a more complete article on this at: http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/beliefdisbelief.htm

    Here is a salient point:
    Logically speaking, mere disbelief in the truth of a proposition cannot be treated as equivalent to the belief that the proposition is false and that the opposite is true. If you make a claim and I disbelieve it, I am not necessarily saying that your claim is false. I may not understand it well enough to say one way or the other. Or I may lack enough information to test your claim. Or I may simply not care enough to think about it.

    You are quite misusing the argument from ignorance fallacy. It really doesn't apply here.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "They are welcome to it. Instead of screaming for justice, I'll be prayerfully begging for mercy" that's one of the most pathetic comments I'ever read, written obviously by an abject slave sprawling at the feet of his god

    ReplyDelete