3/24/09

Quentin Smith - The Gratuitous Fallacy, part II of V

This is the second 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

Emotions in Motion:
Allow me to begin this segment by pointing out that I could not help but notice that no one has taken Quentin Smith to task for his claim to “prove atheism.” How does one prove a mere lack of belief in god(s) besides by stating, “I lack therefore, I lack”?

Let us consider Quentin Smith’s emotional investment:
“Consider, for example, the Spanish influenza. In World War I (1914-1918), ten million people died. But in three months, from September to November of 1919, twenty million people died -- just as many as in the plague in the fourteenth century -- from Spanish influenza. Then suddenly, this virus that caused this deadly flu disappeared, and no one has seen it again.”

Now that we are wrapped up in thinking and feeling about what a terrible occurrence that was, Quentin Smith comes in for the rhetorical kill:

“So how could this possibly have occurred if God exists? Is God not powerful enough to kill this virus or prevent it from growing? If so, then He's not all-powerful and is not really the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition. He's just a sort of extraterrestrial intelligence. He's just more powerful than us by degrees, just as we are more powerful than ants by degrees. But that is no god; that is a finite being. You would no more worship this being than you would worship ET. 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 [sic]. So that's just one example of many gratuitous evils in the universe.”



Let us review the charges one by one before Quentin Smith informs us as to how theists, apparently Christians since he did not besmirch the gods of Islam, Hinduism or any other religion, respond to these arguments.

So how could this possibly have occurred if God exists?
We must understand that atheists are very theologically minded people. Just as G. K. Chesterton pointed out that “all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind”[2] we may likewise state that all denunciation of a particular theology implies a different theology of some kind. Anytime that an atheist states, “Why would God allow…” or “Why doesn’t God…” or “God should…” et al they are speaking from their personal theology. In other words, they have a theological concept and then judge all others according to theirs (see my essay Atheism’s Theistic Concepts).

Is God not powerful enough to kill this virus or prevent it from growing?
The answer could be “Yes,” God is powerful enough but did not do so for reasons that Quentin Smith will refer to as “mysterious.”

If so, then He's not all-powerful and is not really the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Actually, God can be all powerful and yet not be required to perform as Quentin Smith demands.
He's just a sort of extraterrestrial intelligence. He's just more powerful than us by degrees, just as we are more powerful than ants by degrees. But that is no god; that is a finite being. You would no more worship this being than you would worship ET.
In some New Age circles aliens are virtually, if not literally, worshipped.

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?
This is the “mystery” to which we shall come in part III.

Is it because He's not perfectly good?
Perhaps, but one can be good, or perfectly good, and allow evil, or apparent evil.

Because He does not care enough about human beings?
Perhaps, but again this does not necessarily follow.

That is no god. Sounds like more an evil being governs our universe [sic].
Indeed, the Bible states that an evil being is “the god of this world” (2nd Corinthians 4:4).

So that's just one example of many gratuitous evils in the universe.
It was gratuitous if it was gratuitous but it was not gratuitous if it was not gratuitous. Quentin Smith claims to know that it was.

[1] Quentin Smith, Two Ways to Prove Atheism
[2] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908), chapter “The Suicide of Thought”

12 comments:

  1. what on earth? who writes this kind of nonsense?


    “So how could this possibly have occurred if God exists? Is God not powerful enough to kill this virus or prevent it from growing? If so, then He's not all-powerful and is not really the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    ok..God isn't the God of the Christian tradition, what exactly is the Christian tradition? would it be the tradition of the catholic church? the baptists? Lutherans? is He saying that God exists then?

    Gratuitous evil? what on earth would be the definition of gratuitous evil? how does one measure how much evil is gratuitous? at what point does evil become gratuitous? how does the author know? this is just silly atheist emotional banter, it is designed to make the uneducated Christian question himself, or it designed for the already convicted atheist crowd to fire off more silly arguments.

    Here is a fact, the problem of evil fails on all levels, as long as God has a use for what we might considered 'evil' then God and evil are logically compatible and the existence of evil does not disprove God (even the traditional God whatever that might be) if the author wants to talk about gratuitous evil I suggests he gives some sort of definition and evidence of gratuitous evil besides his own feelings and emotions, how much evil does it take for it to be gratuitous? how would we know? who determines it what is gratuitous and what is not gratuitous?

    This is about as silly and error prone as jhon loftus book.

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  2. " This is about as silly and error prone as jhon loftus book."

    Whereas the Bible, on the other hand..

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  3. adonais that was nice, a good example of a red herring, typical atheist logic strikes again.

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  4. The Problem of Evil is not a problem because God must have a reason, even if we don't know what it is, or if, if a person did it, it would be roundly and soundly condemned as evil, because God is good and has a plan and is good. Oh, also He's mysterious and who are you to question God anyway?

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  5. Scott facehead:

    Did you think I was attempting to address your pathetic argument?

    "as long as God has a use for what we might considered 'evil' then God and evil are logically compatible"

    You know what, there's an infinitude of imaginary beings that are "logically" compatible with "evil" (and an infinitude that aren't) - but we don't go around believing in every silly fantasy that someone thinks up just because they're logically compatible with some other select aspect of their fantasy.

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  6. "This is the “mystery” to which we shall come in part III."
    Why not do it here? Its not like anything else is getting done.

    Instead of snarking at Smith it might be more profitable to let us in on the secret of distinguishing mere evil from gratuitous evil, or how to determine if some apparently evil thing is really evil or just pretend evil.

    At the very least it seems to me that there can be no credible claim for the existence of a good god without a way to know that some particular evil isn't really evil.

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  7. Hi adonais,

    In your last paragraph you are mis-representing the argument. The line of reasoning as I see it goes as follows:

    Quentin Smith tries to make a positive case for atheism (or anti-theism) by attempting to show that God and evil are logically incompatible.

    Mariano (and Scott facehead) replies and attempts to show that God and evil are not logically incompatible.

    You then reply and imply that in denying God and evil are logically incompatible that theists are somehow using this purely logical point as a positive reason to believe in God. That view hasn't been put forward here as far as I can see.

    Also I would question the need for the uncharitable labelling of a genuine comment as "pathetic".

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  8. We must understand that atheists are very theologically minded people... Anytime that an atheist states, “Why would God allow…” or “Why doesn’t God…” or “God should…” et al they are speaking from their personal theology.

    Maybe I've been here too long, but this misconception is getting really old. It's almost as bad as the "evolution could only produce selfishness" misconception or the "atheists believe that science will eventually lead to a complete understanding of everything" misconception.

    We don't believe in gods, spirits, rocks possessed by dead ancestors, or any of that nonsense. We think that people made this stuff up--people other than ourselves. The people who believe in these things describe their beliefs to us, and we remain unconvinced. That's how this works.

    Now when Christians describe their god, they say that he is perfectly benevolent and omniscient, etc. Are we supposed to infer anything at all from those words? Are we allowed to assume that your definition of "benevolent" is anything like what it means when applied to a person? Or do we adopt a theology as soon as we attempt to do this? Look, if assigning a property to something doesn't allow you to predict anything about that entity's behavior, it is a useless label--stop using it.

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  9. Andrew T:

    I have nowhere addressed Quentin Smith's argument, and have still no inclination to. I returned a wisecrack at Scott facehead's idiotic and content-free statement about Loftus's book, and he in turn parses this as an "argument" and accused me of red herring and "typical atheist logic". I have no patience for such idiocy, nor am I interested in defending Smith.

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  10. Hi adonais,

    Maybe you have misunderstood what I meant. I'm not implying you are trying to interact with Quentin Smith's argument, and I'm not very interested in the red herring thing. Rather I was questioning your second response to Scott facehead. In that reply you seem to imply that by defending the theist position from the charge of logical inconsistency, Mariano and Scott are somehow making a positive argument for theism i.e.: "but we don't go around believing in every silly fantasy that someone thinks up just because they're logically compatible with some other select aspect of their fantasy.". As far as I can see, no assertion from logical compatibility to God has been made here.

    As for the "pathetic" issue, I think the response about having a "pathetic argument" and "idiocy" is fairly over the top. But that's just me, you're under no obligation to act charitably, especially as an atheist (not trying to be snide here by the way). For the record, I think comments such as "typical atheist logic" aren't very helpful either.

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  11. Andrew T:

    "As far as I can see, no assertion from logical compatibility to God has been made here."

    You're quite right, I suppose I was just thinking out loud. The reification of logical possibility is otherwise a pretty common theistic approach, which they sometimes mistake for an argument. I guess I was just making sure that Scott wasn't going to make that mistake.

    But you know, the Judeo-Christian God has been made infinitely malleable so as to fit any possible observation or lack of observation, which makes these discussions absolutely pointless. What's the point of discussing (like Smith) supposed consequences of God's attributes when theists are free to redefine or reinterpret them on the fly? "Oh, but God doesn't work like that..." Moving the goalposts, that is called.

    "As for the "pathetic" issue, I think the response about having a "pathetic argument" and "idiocy" is fairly over the top. But that's just me, you're under no obligation to act charitably, especially as an atheist"

    Frankly I have used up all my charity by now. I think you got the last of it in your previous article.

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  12. And by the way, Andrew, if you think I'm being unfair, Scott Facehead started building his reputation in an earlier thread, which informed me of the level that he operates on:

    http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/03/quentin-smith-gratuitous-fallacy-part-i.html

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