Election eve jitters

Read this, and then remember: for the record, if Obama wins, and things get worse, all of these people will have the problem of explaining why they got worse.

Your history lesson

This story talks about pottery from 3,000 years ago. For those of you who aren't up on your OT history, that's about right smack dab in the middle of the rule of David over Israel, according to the Bible.

Is Evil a Problem? (5)

Alright -- so not having internet access in my temp housing set back my blogging harder than I expected, but I'm still on about the problem of evil and why it is far more philosophically-challenging to atheism than the average (book-writing) atheist will admit or even examine.

Last time we pointed out that you have to be able to solve the problem of pain if you want to bring it into the discussion in order to make is a disadvantage for (in this case) God -- but we find out quickly that atheism can't solve the problem of pain: it in fact has a problem of pain that looks remarkably familiar. See: if something painful happens, and the person it happens to can't fix it except by causing more pain -- in fact, more pain than they are experiencing in the first place -- they don't have a way to choose their actions. Their philosophy doesn't create any resolutions which are less painful than the problems they have represented. So if the problem of pain causes an issue of inconsistency for the theist, it equally causes a problem of inexplicability for the atheist.

But I think it's worse for the atheist still -- because there are no atheists stuck in a panic of indecision. They themselves will choose some action when they experience or perceive pain. That is, they will choose to do something even if one of the options is more painful than the one they are experiencing. Think about this: to combat theism, and religion in general, some atheists have actually proposed that children be removed from homes where parents will bring them up with religious beliefs. That's not a scare argument: that's merely to point out that given the choice between the pain of affording religious beliefs free expression and the pain of separating children from their parents, plainly the atheist is willing to take the harder choice in order to achieve what he sees as the more-beneficial end.

You know: as if somehow some suffering ultimately has a therapeutic or, if we dare say it, redemptive purpose.

"This has all been very nice, I am sure," intones the patient atheist who has been reading with us this month, "but my view -- and John Loftus' view -- is that God ought to be good enough and powerful enough and intelligent enough to create a world where these crappy choices ought not to have to be made. We would agree with you that real people have to make hard choices all the time -- we would say rather than God should have found a way to make things in order that we didn't have to make those hard choices."

It's an interesting redirection of the question, but it is where we turn the bend from exposing the atheist short-comings to actually advancing the Christian faith -- and I'll get you back with that another day.

Flavor of the day

Wow. I'm taking a stats beating these days. Two years ago I was frequently on the verge of having 200 inbound links; I went on Hiatus last year (I think) and dropped below 100 inbound, and this weekend I went from 85 to 79.

I guess I'm just a has-been. It was a wild ride.

And my internet comes on-line tomorrow at my new digs. At least the handful of you who really care still care ...

Your Next Church

It might be the one you're in right now. There's a book in my stack "to be reviewed" for which I am ridiculously exicted, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community.

Some of you have been ruined by this blog into having an attention span of about 37 seconds, and you'll be unable to read a 200-page book. Sorry 'bout that. So you might want to instead listen to the audio from the "Total Church" conference from ChurchBootCamp. The definition of the Gospel in this first session, btw, is worth your time all by itself.

Ah - Veritas!

Gore @ Harvard

Temperature @ Harvard

Utica Club

The end of an era

It's the end of global warming as we know it, and I feel fine.

For the record, eventually someone is going to have to tell Al Gore he is still a flatulent gas-bag and urge him to give his Nobel Peace Prize back.

Is evil a problem? (4)

Last time I proffered the idea that pain is a problem for the atheist because he has to figure out what to do about said pain - and some of you took that at face value, but I think some of you are rightfully scratching your heads.

"Cent - big thinkin' and everything," you ought to be saying, "but why is having to do something about pain a problem for the atheist? If I have a hand on a hot stove, I pull it off and the problem is solved. If my hand still hurts, I get a doctor to give me medicine, and again, problem solved. Why is taking action toward pain a problem for the atheist?"

That's a great question - and it goes back to our example of the $700 billion bail-out of the banking industry. I mean: $700 billion. Unless the government is essentially printing money (and I'd be willing to listen to someone who says that they are ...), $700 billion has to come from someplace. And in real terms, $700 billion equals about $2400 for every person who is a citizen of the USA today. That means, for example, my house just paid $9600 to the banking industry - and I don't know about you, but $9600 isn't chump change for me. That hurts.

But when we look at the banking industry problem, that hurts, too. See: if the banking industry tanks and $700 billion in bad debt gets foreclosed and turns out to be worth about $450 billion is real value, we're talking about $250 billion in cash assets disappearing from the US economy. To scale that for you, that's like all of WAL*MART suddenly being vaporized; that's like all pro sports plus all college sports revenues times one hundred suddenly burned up in a fire.

And it's the money that really does drive, for example, your company's ability to buy a new capitalized machine, or build a new building, or in some cases manage to pay payroll while your customers enjoy 45 or 60 or 90 day terms on the stuff you just "sold" them.

So on the one had, we can do nothing and allow something like $250 billion in investment capital to evaporate from the US economy - causing a significant impairment to any kind of industrial growth - or on the other hand, we can strap every man, woman and child with $2400 in long-term debt which they may or may not ever pay off. In other words, we can choose between one kind of pain and another kind of pain - but either way, we are going to hurt.

To be sure, speaking existentially - that is, not drawing some larger moral or ethical conclusion here, but measuring the situation and the events strictly from what we have experienced, are experiencing, or are about to experience -- this is what the problem of pain usually looks like. That is, we are choosing between one kind of pain and another kind of pain. We are choosing between "having the appendix taken out" or "suffering through the pain until we either die or we get better". We are choosing between "letting the dentist drill the tooth or extracting it" and "letting it rot out under its own power". We are choosing between one kind of pain and another kind of pain.

And this is specifically where atheism become incoherent and completely unhelpful - this is the place where, as I have said, all flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil. If the atheist is confronted with the problem that all conceivable choices cause pain, and pain is to be avoided, the atheist has to confess something: in order to act, he's going to have to ignore the matter of pain as a consequence in order to choose a course of action.

It is in that way which we arrive at all kinds of mad conclusions – like the conclusion that it is better to kill someone rather than let them suffer, because "no pain but no life" is allegedly more desirable to them than "significant pain but life".

Atheism doesn’t deal with the problem of pain, the problem of evil: it ignores the problem of pain/evil after it allegedly uses it to reproach God. It does not consider that the problem has to be resolved and not merely pointed out.

Stew on that a while, and I'll continue the series later this week.

Is evil a problem? (3)

Sorry for the long silence here. I love my new job, and it has kept me busy; I also do not have internet access in my temp housing (which is a bizarre turn of events), which means I am pretty much composing off-line and without my normal aids of internet resources. It’s very taxing, I can tell you.

Anyway, this is where we left off last time: All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil. Now, that’s strong stuff – and it’s a presuppositional complaint to be sure – but most Bahnsenian presups would reproach this from the place where the atheist can’t really define what is good or what is evil because there’s not objective standard.

But here’s the thing: as we said last time, the really wily atheist will respond, “hey: ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are your problem, not mine. Don’t try to fit me in your theistic box. I’m moving beyond good and evil.” And to that we should say “fair enough.”

What we can’t do, however, is let the atheist walk away as if he has pushed God into the gully of unintelligibility – because the atheist now has an existential problem of his own making. See: he (in this case, Loftus) has brought up the point that people are suffering. Existentially, people are in pain right now – starving babies, AIDS victims, people getting raped and murdered, readers of John Loftus’ blog – and this brute fact doesn’t change because we extract the idea of God from the picture of the universe.

In Loftus’ view, pain demands some action. You know: when you put your hand on a hot stove, there’s pain, and the action is to draw your hand back and (at least in Presbyterian households) cuss. Your pain causes you to do something – and this isn’t an ethical dilemma. Pain is a state which nobody but the most twisted person likes, and everyone will take action to cause pain (his own pain) to end.

Pain exists, and one has to do something about it – and this is where Loftus’ existential problem shows up. Any person can tell you, “it’s normal to want pain to stop,” and most people (in the 99%+ range) will tell you, ”It’s normal to want the pain of other people to stop.” Right? Any human being will feel empathy toward those who are suffering – so much so that we will even feel empathy for people who are being punished for wrong-doing, and even those who suffer because they brought a painful consequence on themselves.

And I for one would agree: it’s normal for a person to have empathy, and it is normal to seek to end the pain of another person when they are suffering. The problem of “evil” – which we have translated into the “problem of suffering” by Loftus’ definition – exists for the atheist because he has empathy for those who suffer. See: he has to figure out what to do with his existential motive of “end the other person’s pain” – given that it seems apparent that doing nothing about it is not a reasonable choice.

In a universe without God, pain is still the urgent question. Nobody can ignore pain.

Or can they?

We’ll talk about that the next time.

Awright awready: stop asking

Many of you have asked what's up with me, and since I have started my new job I think I can come clean. I will not post on this subject again because it's a "this is where I am right now", and, of course, we all know what to think about posts like that.

Back in July I had a conversation with my then-employer about the goings-on there, and while they were extremely nice about it they made it clear that the job I had would probably not be in the org chart in 2009. So about that time, I started looking.

Around the first week of September, I got an offer from LM Glasfiber, and I accepted -- in spite of the fact that it's a 4-hour commute one-way and it means we have to sell the bookstore.

I've worked there 2 weeks, and frankly I love it. I'm a little homesick when I'm not at work, but I'm 43. I suspect I will get over it.

If you're looking for a confessional piece about how hard it is to move or to be away from my family, forget it. My friends know what we're going through, and the rest is voyuerism.

So I'm moving to Little Rock because there's a job there and there's not one in Siloam Springs.

Yeah, OK: bring it on

We're moving to Little Rock, and while everyone who reads this blog has a moral responsibility to visit Lance Quinn's church if you're there, we're prolly not going to live in West LR, so it's not very feasable to join there in spite of, well, the family resemblance.

So all you Little Rock people -- here's your chance. Where do you live and what church are you attending? I'm church shopping for me and my family, and we want to land in a church which is getting the job done.

In the meta, list your town, your church, how long you have been there, and how long your pastor has been there.

pays off at 2:22

Is Evil a Problem? (2)

Last time I left you off with something like this -- The problem is what to do about pain. See: the common argument here -- which Loftus plainly uses to dismiss God -- is that all pain ought to be stopped whenever possible. A universe with suffering in it precludes the Christian God (he says), so the onus is now on John or anyone else who sees pain to stop pain. If that's what we ought to expect from God to the place where we are ready to dismiss God from our philosophy, we have to at least hold ourselves up to that standard. We want an omnipotent God to preclude our suffering, so we should at least think we can use our own limited means to stop the suffering of those we meet.

Well, Loftus couldn't resist commenting on these posts because we're talking about him, and he made one decent clarification before I banned him. Loftus doesn't think all suffering ought to make us disbelieve God: he thinks that only radical suffering out to make us disbelieve God.

BTW, I banned him not because he violated the comics code: I banned him because he had received an invitation to talk about these matters one-on-one at D-Blog, and he declined. Coming here to talk about them now is, frankly, capricious -- and this is a serious subject.

He said it like this:
No, what I am focusing on is the intensive physical and mental pain that breaks people down to the point where some of them cannot take living in this world anymore.
Which is an interesting yardstick, is it not? For Loftus, if life just had bruises and bumps (he says), we couldn't put God on the hook for that. (someday it'd be interesting to find out why) But because some people have pain which causes them to want to die, or ought to cause them to want to die, we have evidence that there is no God -- because a sufficiently "good" and "powerful" and "aware" God would never let such a thing happen.

Well, I have two thoughts on that view, one of which came up in 2006 talking about for example, that girl, as compared to Brian Flemming. My second thought is this: I think it is remarkable that Loftus wants to use a threshold for pain in order to talk about divine compassion.

Here's what I mean: this last week, our government passed a law -- for good or ill, so no wandering off-topic in the meta -- which is going to pay out $700 billion to the banking industry in order to buy off bad debts and restabilize their capital base so the rest of our economy can do things like borrow money to buy raw materials to build things. In theory, (and I saw Warren Buffet tell Charlie Rose this this week, so let's not get too weird here) $700 billion in defaulted mortgages is a very bad thing as suddenly banks will have overvalued properties instead of revenue streams and their ability to trade in money will be severely impaired.

Now, nobody jumped out of windows on Wall Street in the last two weeks, did they? So maybe $700 billion in economic distress spread out over 300 million people and arbitrated by the federal government isn't really that much pain. But it seems to me that $700 billion should show up on the radar. $700 billion is 5% of the GDP for the US, and 25% of the Federal Budget. It seems big, and as a things go, it's a problem, so I think it's a "big problem".

But by Loftus' definition, if the banking industry needs a $700 billion bail-out check, but nobody feels suicidal over it, it's not really part of the problem of evil: it's just a bump in the road. It's just a business decision -- even if it's a business-of-government decision.

So let me say it here plainly as this was my first thesis I wanted to D-Blog with Loftus: All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil.

I will explain that further on another day. Until then, be with the Lord's people on the Lord's day in the Lord's house, even if you are in a different town than you are usually found. Find somebody to love.


You must watch him on the Cartoon Network. I don't care if your brain rots. That's more like composting for the good of the planet.

Yes, yes: that's idolatry. Fine. No fun any more.

Beat the mad rush

Join the Mark Driscoll fan club today.

Is evil a problem? (1)

Since we're talking about Loftus here, let's go to his book and listen to him for a minute:
I'll be arguing here against the theistic conception of God, who is believed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent, perfectly good, or omnibenevolent and all-knowing, or omniscient. The problem of evil (or suffering) is an internal one to these three theistic beliefs, which is expressed in both deductive and evidentialist arguments concerning both moral and natural evil. [228]
So let's think about something here: Loftus is of course reproaching the problem that if someone suffers and God does nothing about it -- if God walks by it, like me stepping over a hobo to whom I could have given help to -- God cannot be God because He is either not good, not aware, or can't do anything about it.

Fair enough -- we will get back to that eventually.

I want to look at Loftus' definition for a minute, however, because it is clever enough that most people will probably not really grasp what he is doing. First, He is making the problem of evil one which only God has to deal with. That is, it's only a problem "internal to theistic beliefs", and not a problem for anyone else. It's a problem about consistency for the theist, not an existential problem.

Unfortunately for Loftus, when he frames the problem, he uses existential examples. He leads the chapter with Eli Wiesel describing what brought him to a loss of faith -- which is wholly an existential problem of what Wiesel calls "silence" in the face of great evil. Wiesel saw evil being done, and it didn't stop when he wanted it to stop, so Wiesel took what he experienced to be true over any other option and concluded what he concluded.

And Wiesel is an interesting example to lead with, because the irony here is that Wiesel recognizes that the problem of evil is not resolved by eliminating God from your metaphysical puzzle. Wiesel, in spite of the rampant atheist citations of Night, is a theist who does not reject the existence of God on account of evil.

Now, many people I respect -- like Doug Wilson for example -- would point out that there's actually no problem of evil if there is no God because anything goes. But Loftus' definition of the problem really avoids that criticism well -- because he doesn't put a moral value on evil. He resorts to the empirical definition instead, because frankly everyone knows when they suffer. Pain is a stake in the ground for him, and I say good for him for recognizing it.

The problem is what to do about pain. See: the common argument here -- which Loftus plainly uses to dismiss God -- is that all pain ought to be stopped whenever possible. A universe with suffering in it precludes the Christian God (he says), so the onus is now on John or anyone else who sees pain to stop pain.

Right? If that's what we ought to expect from God to the place where we are ready to dismiss God from our philosophy, we have to at least hold ourselves up to that standard. We want an omnipotent God to preclude our suffering, so we should at least think we can use our own limited means to stop the suffering of those we meet.

So we should do something about pain and suffering. I think I agree with John Loftus. And to think more about it, I want to think about the $700 billion bail-out the government just gave the banking industry.

Next time.

The problem of evil

Not for nothin', but I'm trying to write this post from a hotel room with cable, and you known what the actual problem of evil is? TV. I'm watching Michael Eisner talking to John Favreau about absolutely nothing, and I can feel my brain rotting into compost. If you ever do that, you can attribute that to why your blog stinks. TV is ruining your brain. That's the problem of evil: watching TV sucks time away from your life in a giant straw with a slurpee spoon at the bottom to get the dregs of your brain matter out for good measure.

Lots of stuff on the blog these days -- so my apologies if this post starts yet another thread I might not finish up this decade.

Now, guys like William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler approach the Christian faith as if it was a philosophical system. That is, in my opinion, they take it beyond systematics to something that is, in fact, epistemologically modern and really strip it of a necessary, epistemological connection to the Bible.

Let me make sure I say this as precisely as possible. Geisler and Craig are Christians, they have Christian beliefs, and I am not calling them unbiblical heretics. What I am saying is that they have, with good intentions, over time, left the ground of what the Bible teaches to develop Christian-derivative reasoning for the sake of evidentialist apologetics. I strongly disagree with this approach to apologetics because it doesn't start with the Bible, but only occasionally refers to the Bible.

And I bring that up because John W. Loftus showed up at TeamPyro before we locked it up for the month of October, and I offered him ... well, this is what I said to him:

I am sure you and your, um, associates have seen my blog DebateBlog in which I have had encounters with a wide variety of people with ideas about Christianity, including one pop-culture movie-making atheist.

Here's a thesis:

All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil.

Here's a second thesis:

The message of the Christian Scripture is the only philosophically-credible resolution of the problem of evil.

I am about to start a new job this week, but I will have almost all of my evenings free. I will be willing to defend both theses in separate exchanges with you taking the contrary position.

The blog has a normal set of rules for engagement, but for you I'd be willing to consider the following:
• 1500-word opening statements from both sides
• 150-word limit for questions
• 500-word limit for answers
• 10 Q's and 10 A's from each side
• 1000-word closer from both sides.
• a 500-word summary or analysis from you to close each exchange.

Because you're a a rational guy that Norman Geisler thinks is the cream of the crop for atheists, and because we are closing TeamPyro for a month, it's an open invite for which I happen to have a lot of time. You e-mail me to start the exchange. My only non-negotiable condition is that we must do both theses if we are to do any exchanges at all.
And Loftus declined, he says, because I also said this:

You may know me better as "centuri0n".

I am reading your book.

If the only thesis statement you are willing to defend is the one from your link, I think that's a pretty narrow-band thesis -- because all it proves is that people who believe in God are not modern, uncivilized, and scientifically illiterate. It doesn't say anything about whether God exists but only what you think of those who believe it.

I think you should consider at least three things about my two theses:

[1] Neither of them hang on the actual existence of God. They are about the philosophical consistency of the two positions presented.

[2] Neither of them cause an ad-hom to be hurled at the other side. So you don't turn out to be "uncivilized" if you hold your position after we're done: your position is either credible or not credible, as would be mine based on the outcome of each exchange.

[3] These theses reposition your claim to a place where it can actually affirm something rather than merely deny my position. That is, rather than put you in the impossible place of proving the non-existence of something, it gives you the opportunity to show a genuine strength of your position -- by facing the foundational existential issue of suffering.

The reason why I would like to debate you personally is that I think that if you live up to your press -- or the endorsements you have presented -- you have a chance of representing yourself better than most atheists on the internet can. However, I have encountered you at Triablogue, and I have a suspicion that you cannot sustain 10 questions about your beliefs before you present something which will be a double standard against Christian beliefs in favor of atheist belief. In 20 questions, I think you will become completely incoherent.

So the offer is open. Please e-mail me if you are interested. I'm offering to defend the theses rather than ask you to defend anything, so you should have a very distinct advantage.
See: I read Loftus' book, and of course he goes after everything under the sun in 400 pages, but most interesting is his two chapters (dude: not one but two chapters) on the problem of evil.

I think his approach to that particular issue relies almost completely on accepting the Geisler/Craig modernist evidentialist apologetic as the best representation of theistic theonomy, and frankly ignores the Bible in favor of the rationalizations of Christians.

So what I am going to do is take some time this October and think about the problem of evil -- first from the place where it demonstrates a significant problem for agnosticism and atheism (not what you think, btw), and then from the place where the Bible actually speaks about this problem -- and why we should care.

Stay tuned. And keep the TV off because you need that 20 hours a week back to have a decent quality of life.