A Contra-Positive Deductive Anti-Theist Argument from Suffering

I've been busy in recent months writing as an invited guest-author (on orthodox Christian universalism) over at the Evangelical Universalist forum; so I haven't had much time (or energy {g}) to contribute new articles here. But my friend Professor Victor Reppert has been posting up new and previous articles on arguments from evil (especially the deductive kind), for his students and readers, at DangIdea recently (as he tends to do about twice a year); and this reminded me that I've been meaning for some time to post up a deductive variation of the anti-theistic argument from suffering that I myself came up with a while ago. (A set of anti-theistic deductive arguments from evil, linked to by Victor during the discussion, can also be found collected by Jeff Lowder at the Secular Web here.)

This is an expanded, detailed and amplified form of an argument my sometime-previous-sparring partner, Richard Carrier, was attempting to make a couple of years ago in the opening statement of his side of the debate with Tom Wanchick on the Secular Web. (The contents page of which can be found here.)

To explain my involvement: Victor was asked to cooperate in formally judging the debate by his friends at the Secular Web; and along the way he invited several of his longtime respondents to informally comment on the debate so that he could cross-check his own evaluations. The following argument was part of my own commentary notes, sent to Victor. (For what it's worth, I considered both sides to have done so poorly in their respective opening presentations that I rescinded myself from commenting afterward.)

I won't go into the reasons why I thought Richard's attempt needed expansion, more detail, better synchronization, etc. But my goal was to try to do justice to the argument. I do not necessarily hold to all the included premises or observations; I only identify them as being necessary for the force of Richard's final conclusion in his argument. I have phrased them, however, with an eye toward being (where applicable) in as full agreement with them as I can, while still representing the strength of Richard's argument.

This particular form of deductive argument is designed to test for premise conflicts, where a conflict indicates that one or more of the relevant premises (or perhaps observations) is untrue and should be revised accordingly. If all premises and observations but one are in fact true, then the remaining premise or observation must be false (assuming proper validity in the argument has otherwise been established). A little more softly, if all premises and observations but one are considered by the thinker to be true (e.g. in principle; or having been properly established by previous argument as being true; or having been accurately observed, etc.), then the remaining premise or observation should be considered by the thinker to be false. (Which is why I call it a contra-positive deductive argument.)

So, to give an example relevant for Richard's attempt, if all other premises and observations are agreed to be true, and if the logic is valid, then P0 should be rejected as false.

(P)remises and (O)bservations are the data of the argument. Observations are typically inferential understandings from experience, or perhaps very obvious principles. Premises may be conclusions (inductive or deductive) arrived at previously to this argument, hypothetical assertions, or claimed-to-be-necessary presumptions. Generally speaking, Observations are expected to be more broadly acceptable and less debatable than Premises.

(C)onclusions are attempts at assessing the logical implications of accepting data points as true, including perhaps some immediately relevant corollaries.

(Con)flicts involve conflicting conclusions. Assuming the logic up to the identified conflict was valid, this necessarily implies at least one fault in the prior data leading to the conflicting conclusions.

Richard's topic (and target) was what he and Tom called Basic Theism. The agreed definition between them (which can be found in their joint introduction), was "a nonphysical, conscious mind having power, intelligence, and a morally good nature, all far beyond that of any human. This God is distinct from, and the creator of, the universe, and can act upon the universe by simply willing so." I consider the BT so defined to be not necessarily identical to supernaturalistic theism in its full ontological strength, as the definition does not include the detail that all potentially possible and actually existent reality depends upon this entity for existence. It is, however, very similar to the proposal of supernaturalistic theism, and may be considered a lesser type (since the entity is clearly posited as being supernatural to the natural universe. This would not exclude the entity being a demiurge, however, or something of that sort.) It seems probable, though, that both debators intended to be debating full ontological supernaturalistic theism.

P0. BT is true.

(Note that subsequent premises about the truth of BT require BT to be provisionally presumed true first. Where conflicts between argument elements become detected, resolution may involve denying a premise; including possibly P0.)

P1. If BT is true, it is possible for a brainless mind to exist outside of all natural systems. (ex. God Himself is a brainless mind existing outside of all natural systems)

P2. If BT is true, God could possibly have created brainless minds that exist outside of all natural systems.

(Note that P2 effectively includes P1.)

P3. If BT is true, no mind exists that was not deliberately created or allowed by God.

(Note that the universal negative of this premise is presented as a principle contingent on the understanding of BT--not as a claim of effectively omniscient experience, which could be easily refuted.)

P4. If BT is true, God will always behave in a fashion not discontinuous with (even if not precisely in identification with) the morality He expects His creations to follow (where they have the ability to do so), including in His choice of what to allow. (i.e. if BT is true, God will always behave in a not-immoral way; including logical variants thereof.)

P5. If BT is true, it is immoral for someone (by intentional omission or commission) to cause or allow suffering to happen, without fair reason.

P6. If BT is true, it is without fair reason to allow an unfairness at all, whether or not the unfairness can be removed and replaced with fairness later. (Or, if BT is true, it is without fair reason for a particular moral problem to be allowed at all, whether or not the problem can be mended later.)

P7. If BT is true, it is emphatically without fair reason to allow an unfairness that by choice will not be mended later.

P8. If BT is true, God has the ability to mend any unfairness.

P9. If BT is true, God has the ability to prevent any unfairness from happening.

O1. At least some humans exist within an evident natural system (Nature), and have a brain-embodied mind.

C1. (from P3, O1) If BT is true, God deliberately created or allowed the creation of the O1 humans.

C2. (from P2, P3, O1) If BT is true, God could have created or allowed the creation of these humans to exist outside of Nature with brainless minds.

C3. (from C1, C2) If BT is true, God deliberately chose to create or allow the creation of these humans according to O1 rather than according to P1 (to the extent that O1 is exclusive to P1).

C4. (from C3, P4) If BT is true, when God chose to do C3, He was not behaving in discontinuity with (even if not precisely in identification with) the morality He expects His creations to follow etc. (i.e. He was not behaving immorally)

O2. At least some O1 humans suffer.

P10. At least some of the suffering of O1 humans is unfair.

(Note that P10 includes an effective recognition of O2.)

C5. (from P9, P10) If BT is true, God has allowed P10 instead of preventing it.

C6. (from P6, C5) If BT is true, God has behaved without fair reason.

C7. (from P5, C6) If BT is true, God has behaved in an immoral way.

Con1. (from P4, C7) If BT is true, God always behaves in a not-immoral way; but if BT is true, God has behaved in an immoral way. (premise or logical error)

O3. At least some O2 humans experience disability (to any degree) due at least in part to the composition characteristics of their brain-embodied minds.

(Note that, due to the broadness of the O3 description, O3a may be supplied: at least the vast majority of O2 humans [etc.])

P11. At least some of the disability suffered by the O3 humans is unfair.

Con2. Equivalent to Con1 (where P11 is equivalent to P10, then C5, C6, C7 following.)

P12. At least some of the P11 unfair suffering would certainly not have happened had the condition of C2 happened to them instead.

C8. (from C4, P12) If BT is true, God chose to institute something resulting in an unfair suffering rather than instituting something that would have not resulted in that particular unfair suffering.

Con3. Equivalent to Con1 (where C8 is equivalent to C5, then C6, C7 following)

O4. It has been observed that at least some of the disability suffered by P11 humans is certainly never mended.

C9. Equivalent to emphatic C7 (from O4, P8, P7, P11 equivalent to P10, then C5, C6, C7 following)

Con4. Equivalent to emphatic Con1 (from P4, C9)

To this, may be added (at least) from Richard's presentation:

P13: regardless of what drawbacks a Brainless Mind may have, an Embodied Mind will always have more. (perhaps substituted by an Observation to the same effect?)

P14: (if BT is true?) the Golden Rule ("love thy neighbor as thyself") of morality applies to God.

O5: it has been observed (or, alternately, established as a premise) that God has chosen to not ever fulfill P14 by subjecting Himself to the same P13, P12 et al, as He chose to otherwise allow (or enact).

C10. equivalent to emphatic C7 (from P14, O5, P7, C5, C6, C7 following)

(Note that O5 would lead to requiring P7, not merely P4.)

Con5. equivalent to emphatic Con1 (see earlier examples.)

I have posted the same argument (with a slightly modified introduction, of course), at the EU forum, for comments there as well.

My commentary on this argument can be found in that thread, and also (in a relatively abbreviated form) in this Cadre Journal entry several weeks later.


Jason Pratt said…
Just a comment-tracking registration.


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