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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Curtis/Vacula Debate, Does the Christian God Exist?: 1st Rebuttals

This post will constitute my first of two rebuttals that will take place in the debate between me and Justin Vacula. In order to see Justin's rebuttal to my opening statement (which appears below this thread), just visit his website at JustinVacula.com





While perusing Mr. Vacula's opening statement there were a few items that caught my attention and I will list them for his consideration and comment.

Can one honestly believe that malaria, AIDS, Indian Ocean Tsunamis, Chilean earthquakes, andthe like are the work of an omni-good god?

While we are discussing the concept of whether the Christian concept of a god exists, it is important to bear in mind that these things occur, according to orthodox Christian doctrine, because we all live in a fallen world. These things came about after the fall, this world/plane of existance isn't paradise, and the existance of these aforementioned items only serve to reinforce and help prove that contention. If the narrative was such that these things did not exist, then it would seem contradictory that they do, however, that is not the case.

I contend that 'natural evil' – earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, animal suffering, and the like – is incompatible with belief in an omni-good god and serves as a defeater to Christian belief

I notice that Mr. Vacula made the huge leap of terming these things 'evil' without ever explaining how he arrived at that conclusion. At no point does he explain the criteria that must be met in order for any of these things to be defined as 'evil'. I would posit the fact that Mr. Vacula views these things as 'evil' counts towards evidence that an objective good exists by which we can gauge these things. And if that objective good exists, then what is it?

A strict materialist would simply look at these things and shrug. An earthquake causing destruction? A seismic event that is the result of plate tectonics, and why did they make the decision to live near a fault line anyway? Should they be shaking their fist at God or do they carry at least part of the blame if it affected them or their loved ones? Same goes for a flood wiping out a bunch of houses and displacing hundreds, the materialist would think that it's the result of a meteorological event such as heavy rain. Did anyone put a gun to their respective heads and force them to live in a flood plain? Is it God's fault if the didn't do their homework? Do humans bear any responsibility at all in these equations whatsoever?

Again, by what standard are these things termed 'evil'? If a tsunami occurs out at sea and hardly anyone notices, is it 'evil'? If a tornado doesn't actually kill anyone, but does delay my flight out of Tulsa for an hour and a half, is it 'evil' or merely a 'nuisance'? If a hurricane causes some property damage and minor abrasions, is it 'evil' or just 'not very nice'?

I do hope that some measurement for clarification is offered up by Mr. Vacula to help us understand how he determined this. And furthermore that any clarification put forward isn't based on anything so highly subjective as personal feelings, experience or opinion. Because after all, we know that these things indeed vary greatly from person to person. We'll see.

In addition to human suffering, an egregious amount of animal suffering exists – ecosystems thrive because animals kill other animals, often in a slow and painful fashion. Does this seem to be the work of an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing being?

You know what? That's quite interesting. I don't recall that I have ever heard of the so-called suffering of animals objection that Mr. Vacula raises as being a valid argument against the existence of God.

But I wonder if we actually know how much these animals are truly 'suffering'. For instance, some animals inject a numbing venom so their prey doesn't feel the pain of being bitten. But setting aside the uncertain level of pain that some animals feel when being eaten by others, I would like to know why Justin simply settled on animals. I mean, who is going to stand up for the vegetables? What was the criteria considered when the animal kingdom got the big 'thumbs up' for approval that their experiences were valid and those of plants are not? Recent research would suggest that plants are suffering too.




"When a plant is wounded, its body immediately kicks into protection mode. It releases a bouquet of volatile chemicals, which in some cases have been shown to induce neighboring plants to pre-emptively step up their own chemical defenses and in other cases to lure in predators of the beasts that may be causing the damage to the plants. Inside the plant, repair systems are engaged and defenses are mounted, the molecular details of which scientists are still working out, but which involve signaling molecules coursing through the body to rally the cellular troops, even the enlisting of the genome itself, which begins churning out defense-related proteins.

Plants don’t just react to attacks, though. They stand forever at the ready. Witness the endless thorns, stinging hairs and deadly poisons with which they are armed. If all this effort doesn’t look like an organism trying to survive, then I’m not sure what would. Plants are not the inert pantries of sustenance we might wish them to be.

If a plant’s myriad efforts to keep from being eaten aren’t enough to stop you from heedlessly laying into that quinoa salad, then maybe knowing that plants can do any number of things that we typically think of as animal-like would. They move, for one thing, carrying out activities that could only be called behaving, if at a pace visible only via time-lapse photography. Not too long ago, scientists even reported evidence that plants could detect and grow differently depending on whether they were in the presence of close relatives, a level of behavioral sophistication most animals have not yet been found to show."




So why do plants get the short end of the stick here? They seem to have an awareness of whats going on. And lest you think that a diet of mushrooms would solve the problem and let you off the hook, the above article contains a link explaining how fungi are even more closely related to us than plants are. (provided evolution is correct) So I guess they are 'off the table' so to speak, also.

I don't wish to make my opponent's arguments for him, but are animals used in this argument against God because they have faces and perhaps we are more sympathetic towards them for mere sentimental reasons? Or perhaps because they have brains? The above quoted author brings up the example of Jellyfish which "can be really tasty when cut into julienne and pickled, [and] have no brains, only a simple net of nerves, arguably a less sophisticated setup than the signaling systems coordinating the lives of many plants" and asks "How do we decide how much sensitivity and what sort matters?"

Since Justin brought up this line of argument, I will assume that he has carefully thought through his position on the matter and will await for him to tell us just where the terminator line is as to whose suffering is uplifted and who the ultimate losers are to be in these scenarios.


If the amount of good in the world renders belief in an omni-evil god unreasonable, why doesn't theamount of suffering and death in the world render belief in an omni-good god unreasonable?...we are equally justified in believing that of evil in the world demonstrates that there is not a good creator god.




I don't believe that my opponent has a rudimentary understanding of one of the more basic concepts of Christianity, namely, that according to widely accepted, orthodox belief, the God of this world is not the Creator God. This is made quite clear in 2nd Corinthians 4:4 "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God". There are various other passages that confirm this and I admit that I'm a bit puzzled that my opponent was (seemingly) unaware of this doctrine.

Premise One: Naturalism, the philosophical belief that all that exists is the natural world, is very inductively justified.

Premise Two: If naturalism is very inductively justified, we are justified in rejecting any supernatural explanations.

Premise Three: The Christian god is a supernatural explanation.

Conclusion: We are justified in rejecting belief in the Christian god.



I would like to turn this discussion back towards Christianity (or the 'Christian God'). Exactly where did Natural Law come from and was it in fact a necessary prerequisite that lead to methodological naturalism and ultimately sytematic science? Christians typically do not seek supernatural explanations except perhaps on origin of life discussions and numerous scientists seem to hold their faith concerning where the first living, reproducing organism came from with equal ardor. As one man put it, "Supernatural intervention plays no role in Natural Law, except to have set the ground rules".

EDIT: 2nd rebuttals are to be posted on our respective blogs on Thursday night.



3 comments:

GentleSkeptic said...

Same goes for a flood wiping out a bunch of houses and displacing hundreds … Did anyone put a gun to their respective heads and force them to live in a flood plain? Is it God's fault if they didn't do their homework? Do humans bear any responsibility at all in these equations whatsoever?

Well, I can think of one really big Old Testament exception. See if you can guess what it is. (Hint: it's in Genesis.)

I don't recall that I have ever heard of the so-called suffering of animals objection that Mr. Vacula raises as being a valid argument against the existence of God.

Well you'll be equally surprised to learn that your hero, William Lane Craig, has heard of this objection, and has responded. Not very well, mind you, but at least he's aware.

2nd Corinthians 4:4 "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe."

So … Satan is a God. But I thought there was only One God, who is actually three distinct entities? So now there are actually two Gods, one of whom is three distinct entities and is responsible for creation but is powerless to prevent evil, and one of whom is actually responsible for "this world," whatever that means. Sounds like a really convenient scapegoat. "Oh silly: don't you know that Satan is in charge here? That's why it's all messed up! It's not ACTUAL God's fault, it's that OTHER God's fault. Duh!"

Christians typically do not seek supernatural explanations except perhaps on origin of life discussions

Well. This, I must say, strikes me as a bald-faced lie, or just hugely unperceptive.

Every time you thank and praise God for something, you are seeking a supernatural explanation. Every time you pray for something, or for a resolution to a problem, you are seeking a supernatural explanation. Every time you sit and listen to a sermon about living as a Christian, you are seeking a supernatural explanation. Every hurt that is healed, every desire that is fulfilled, every fear that is assuaged, in the life of a Christian, receives a supernatural explanation. Original Sin, Salvation, Redemption, the soul: these are all supernatural explanations. For crying out loud: your answer to the question directly preceding this one ("according to widely accepted, orthodox belief, the God of this world is not the Creator God") is a huge, unsupported, sweeping supernatural explanation.

I'm beginning to think that you cannot distinguish between natural and supernatural explanations. I mean really. Just compare these two statements:

• "According to widely accepted, orthodox belief, the God of this world is not the Creator God."
• "Christians typically do not seek supernatural explanations."

Do you see any tension here?

JD Curtis said...

Well, I can think of one really big Old Testament exception. See if you can guess what it is. (Hint: it's in Genesis.)

He did not raise a specific objection to the Great Flood. That merits a whole other thread

Well you'll be equally surprised to learn that your hero, William Lane Craig, has heard of this objection, and has responded

Whoop-dee-do. Did he invoke the Vegetable Defense? Somewhere Greg Bahnsen is giggling uncontrollably.

Every time you thank and praise God for something, you are seeking a supernatural explanation

What 'explanation' is a farmer seeking when he receives rain after a long drought? Or if he thanks God, it's just that? Praise

Every time you sit and listen to a sermon about living as a Christian, you are seeking a supernatural explanation

More 'guidance' than explanation. If it can be scientifically shown that there are tremendous benefits to doing so, is that then acceptable to you?

I'm beginning to think that you cannot distinguish between natural and supernatural explanations. I mean really. Just compare these two statements:

• "According to widely accepted, orthodox belief, the God of this world is not the Creator God."
• "Christians typically do not seek supernatural explanations


The first refers to a common belief among Christians concerning who has sway in this world.

The second is in the context of seeking supernatural explanations to phenomena which have quite well known, demonstrable, naturalistic explanations.

GentleSkeptic said...

Christianity itself is a supernatural explanation for the natural world and everything in it. To even suggest that "Christians typically do not seek supernatural explanations" is patently disingenuous. To be Christian is to seek and accept supernatural explanations and engage in a 'personal relationship' with a supernatural being.

The class of "phenomena which have quite well known, demonstrable, naturalistic explanations" is continually expanding, and now encompasses things that used to have only supernatural explanations: weather (including rain for farmers), illness, insanity, the movement of the planets, the size and and nature of the universe, the diversity of life. The question is whether you can distinguish between the two types of explanations.

He did not raise a specific objection to the Great Flood.

But the Great Flood was a flood, no? And one with a strictly "supernatural explanation" (the kind that Christians "typically do not seek.") As you say, "A strict materialist would simply look at these things and shrug." And you'd be right. But you are not a strict materialist, are you? When Justin calls is a flood 'natural evil' he is leveraging the theist's frame of reference, with "evil" as the wanton disregard for human life. And we have scrupulous scriptural documentation of God behaving in precisely this manner.

What 'explanation' is a farmer seeking when he receives rain after a long drought? Or if he thanks God, it's just that? Praise.

I would say that the farmer's "praise" is a response to the farmer's own supernatural explanation: "God did something."