Sophisticated Theology: Plantinga explains why God makes animals suffer

Theologians don’t get more sophisticated than Alvin Plantinga, philosopher of religion (emeritus) at Notre Dame and Calvin College. He’s loaded with honors, and was once president of the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association.  He’s written a gazillion books, many of which say the same thing, and I’ve posted about his bizarre defenses of Christianity several times before (e.g., here, here, and here).

My latest incursion into Sophisticated Theology™ involves reading Plantinga’s new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011, Oxford University Press).  His thesis is, as usual, that there is no conflict between science and religion, but a profound one between science and naturalism.  I won’t reprise his argument except to say that involves the specious claim that natural selection could not have given us senses that enable us to reliably detect the truth, so that ability must have been conferred by God (see my post on that argument here).

Today I want to highlight one bit of bizarre apologetics that Plantinga offers in his new book. It stems from the oft-made criticism that the existence of “natural” evil—that is, evils like childhood cancers and deaths by tsunamis—conflicts with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. Lately this argument has been applied to the idea of natural selection: why would God use a process of creation that would lead to the suffering of so many animals? Couldn’t God have done it otherwise? This argument is part of Philip Kitcher’s “Enlightenment case against supernaturalism” in his excellent short book Living With Darwin. As Kitcher says there (p. 127):

When you consider the millions of years in which sentient creatures have suffered, the uncounted number of extended and agonizing deaths, it simply rings hollow to suppose that all this is needed so that, at the very tail end of history, our species can manifest the allegedly transcendent good of free and virtuous action.

Well, Plantinga, who can explain anything using his convoluted apologetics, has an answer on pp. 58-59 of his book.  It is so stunningly absurd, even humorous, that I must convey it in full. Read this to get the full import of Sophisticated Theology™:

The same [why God permits suffering] goes for processes in the natural world that cause pain and suffering. Various candidates for these reasons have been suggested. . .

God wanted to create a really good world; among all the possible worlds, he wanted to choose one of very great goodness.  But what sorts of properties make for a good world? What are the good-making properties for worlds? Many and various: containing rational creatures who live together in harmony, containing happy creatures, containing creatures who know and love God, and many more. Among good-making properties for worlds, however, there is one of special, transcendent importance, and it is a property that according to Christians characterizes our world.  For according to the Christian story, God, the almighty first being of the universe and creator of everything else, was willing to undergo enormous suffering in order to redeem creatures who had turned their backs on him.  He created human beings; they rebelled against him and constantly go contrary to his will. Instead of treating them as some Oriental monarch would, he sent his Son, the Word, the second person of the Trinity into the world. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was subjected to ridicule, rejection, and finally the cruel and humiliating death of the cross. Horrifying as that is, Jesus, the Word, the son of God, suffered something vastly more horrifying: abandonment by God, exclusion from his love and affection: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told. No other great-making property of a world can match this one.

If so, however, perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain. Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain. Still further, it may very well contain sin and suffering, not just on the part of human beings but perhaps also on the part of other creatures as well. Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain. (Some may snort with disdain at this suggestion; it is none the worse for that.)

And that, brothers and sisters, is the best that modern theology has to offer. It is the kind of theology that people like Dawkins and I are accused of ignoring—or of not taking seriously.

No wonder Plantinga notes that this argument “is unlikely to become popular among secularists”! It not only claims that animals have to suffer because Jesus did, as well as we miserable sinners, but floats the idea that “Satan and his minions” also have a bit part in the creation of suffering.  Eagles, lions, ichneumon wasps—all the sufferings inflicted on animals by other animals?  They come from Satan! And why, exactly, did God allow Satan to do that? What is the purpose of animals suffering unnecessary pain?  (Naturalistic evolution, of course, explains all this: pain is an adaptation to detect damage, and predation the inevitable result of a new food supply.)

I could go on and on about the argument, but what’s the point? Despite Massimo’s caution, I aver that Plantinga’s idea is simply silly and laughable. Satan indeed! Must I take this seriously and discuss the evidence for The Hornéd One?

If I may be allowed an observation, I think that Plantinga has been driven mad by Christianity.

164 Comments

  1. Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    BTW, I’m trying to trace the history of the skepticsphere phrase “sophisticated theology”, and who put people onto the sophisticated theologist list (e.g., Plantinga). Notes here. I’m reconstructing a lot from web evidence, but ideally I need the accounts of people who actually watched it develop and remember it happening.

    • David Leech
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      It will probably Eagleton’s review of the God Delusion, wow did the theists lap that up.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Your project would probably be furthered by also using the Google Groups search to examine the old Usenet archives.

  2. Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    So, according to Plantinga, it was impossible for Jesus to design a universe with all the good stuff but without all the bad stuff.

    What I want to know, is who’s the super-duper god who set up the rules of the universe like that in the first place; what’s he done to tie Jesus’s hands; and why isn’t Plantinga blowing kisses up his ass instead of Jesus’s?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Why didn’t he just rewind the clock when Adam and Eve at the sin-fruit?

      God: “You ate the fruit? Oh no. Can’t have that. Into oblivion for you two. Now, let’s make Adam and Eve v2.0… Where’s that magic mud?”

      • exrelayman
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Precisely. God hates sin; can’t stand to be in the presence of it – hence Hell.

        But hold on! This Dude who hates sin has a hissy fit because Adam and Eve sinned and decrees that every single person born since have a sin nature! And people buy this?! (Well, yes, given that the brainwashing begins at an age when the child’s mind is weak and defenseless. I mean look at those cute cuddly Ark animals.)

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          How about the “sin” of lying about supernatural stuff no one knows anything about — like what a “god” likes or don’t?

          • Steve in Oakland
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

            I saw a bumpersticker today that simply said “GODIST.” Any idea what that’s all about?

            • Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

              It’s a plot by Satan and his/her minions – aka – us, of course.

        • rlwemm
          Posted August 19, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          Hold on, again, as we consider that the god who cannot abide to be close to sinful people spent time together with Satan and then colluded with him to make Job’s life miserable as the result of a holy bet that Job would remain loyal to the god, nevertheless.

          Hold on, once again, as we consider that Jesus, the half caste, spent about 30 years in the close presence of sinful people.

          Hold on, a fourth time, as we consider the ridiculous notion of Jesus quietly praying to himself and then abandoning himself on the cross.

          Hold on to your sanity because these instances will drive you insane if you cannot rationalize them, ignore them or forget them. Unless you have already thought your way out of this insane system to the sane
          light of reality.

    • MNb
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Which implies that Plantinga doesn’t believe in heaven. Oh well.

      • blitz442
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Exactly! Christianity’s own proposition of heaven makes it clear that creatures can exist with free will, zero evil, and perfect happiness.

        • Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          But DO people have free will in Heaven? CAN they do evil?

          (I mean, I guess, does the unsophisticated theological version of Heaven include the concept of free will? I seem to remember there’s a ST™ version of Heaven that is just some king of warm and cuddly idea of being With God – in his bosom, as it were, where I guess free will becomes irrelevant.)

      • Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Cierto. If he could design heaven, he could design earth and the rest of the universe. If the only way to have the best possible world is to have automatons in it; what a lack of imagination.

  3. Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Eagles, lions, ichneumon wasps—all the sufferings inflicted on animals by other animals? They come from Satan! And why, exactly, did God allow Satan to do that? What is the purpose of animals suffering unnecessary pain?

    I’m pretty sure that C. S. Lewis introduced this argument against animal suffering.

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      “For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.

      Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”

      C.S. Lewis, THE LAST BATTLE

    • ChrisKG
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      So, if that is true, then why did Noah allow the animals that inflict suffering on the Ark? Why not leave them behind? You’d think killing everything on the planet was punishment enough! Wasn’t the Flood used to wash away sins (again)? It appears that God’s track record really sucks on this issue and it wasn’t very well thought out, now was it?

      • darrelle
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        See, your standards are unreasonably high. You need to be willing to suspend your disbelief, or of course you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of inanity …. (oops, I meant christianity). You can’t expect them to get every detail to be consistent with reality, or even with all the other details. That would just ruin the story.

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          … to enjoy the benefits of inanity …. (oops, I meant christianity).

          A new neologism: Christ-inanity?

          • jimroberts
            Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            +1

          • darrelle
            Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            Nice!

          • NMcC
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Not new, I’m afraid. I have used it for years, as I’m sure have others. I believe I used it on RD.net around 5 years ago. :-)

            • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

              Dang! Thought it was going to be my ticket to fame and fortune … or at least 15 minutes of the former … ;-)

  4. Jer
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Wait – I’m confused.

    Is Plantinga asserting that there is no Heaven?

    perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain.

    If the best possible worlds must contain sin and evil and suffering and pain, then Heaven cannot exist. If Heaven exists and Plantinga’s assertions are true, then it must either be a worse world than what we see on Earth OR it also contains sin and evil and suffering and pain and therefore does not fit any understanding of Heaven that any Christian I know has ever had.

    So Plantinga has not only solved the Riddle of Epicurus by the bog-standard millenia old method of re-defining “omnipotent” down, but he’s redefined it down to the point where the God he proposes couldn’t even create the Heavenly reward that he promises to his faithful.

    But really it always comes down to redefining the terms, doesn’t it? The only way to solve the riddle of Epicurus is to jettison one of omnipotence, omniscience or omnibenevolence. Funny how the “go to” one for most believers is to explain how the omnipotent God Almighty really is limited by the system of logic that he himself must have created. (Or if he didn’t, then why aren’t we worshiping the deity who created the system of logic that constrains God Himself to its rigor?)

    • Tulse
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I really don’t get how one can both argue for the necessity of suffering and believe in heaven (much less a thrice-omni god).

      And as far as Plantinga being “sophisticated”, it appears he’s just regurgitating Leibniz and the “best of all possible worlds” assertion.

      • Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

        It does worry me “just a little” that I had go this far down the thread before someone noticed that the Plantinga’s argument is a pretty much a repeat of that offered by Leibniz.

        • andreschuiteman
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          Time to bring up Voltaire?

          • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            Maybe. ‘Candide’ was more an excellent work of satire rather than a philosophical condemnation of Leibniz’s mathematical and mechanistic notion of theodicy. It does however introduce an idea of practical reasoning as an motivational alternative, which is shared by Platinga (which of course, doesn’t necessarily change Leibniz’s determinism).

            A stronger philosophical approach in my opinion is Bertrand Russell in his study of Leibniz, where both this matter of the possibility of contradiction between divine will and human freedom is explored, along with pointing out that because evil exists, and existence (in Leibniz) is deemed to be good, then evil must at least include some good.

          • Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

            Cue Bernstein.

    • Tim
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, sounds like ol’ Alvin screwed the pooch. Wait, wait … I have an escape pod ready for the distinguished Prof. Platinga: When he made this particular shit up, Satan confused him.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:24 am | Permalink

        So these are his “satanic verses”?

    • Iain Walker
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      “If the best possible worlds must contain sin and evil and suffering and pain, then Heaven cannot exist.”

      Plantinga is talking about logically possible worlds here, and in this context, heaven is not a world in itself, but just part of a world comprising all natural and supernatural reality. To put it another way, the kind of world he is talking about would comprise the physical cosmos and heaven and hell. So as long as the evil and suffering is located in the other parts, heaven can still exist as an evil- and suffering-free realm.

      • Jer
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Wait – so your read on Plantinga’s argument is that he’s saying that Heaven is Omelas? That the perfect world of Heaven can only exist if there’s also a world of suffering and evil and sin to counterbalance it?

        That’s even more messed up than I was giving him credit for. In that interpretation God – who created everything and knows everything – created the universe despite knowing that it would cause infinite suffering. How does that not make God evil?

        • Iain Walker
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          “so your read on Plantinga’s argument is that he’s saying that Heaven is Omelas? That the perfect world of Heaven can only exist if there’s also a world of suffering and evil and sin to counterbalance it?”

          Something similar but not quite. He’s saying (or at least his argument implies) that a possible world that was entirely like heaven would not be the best possible world (or a best possible world) because it wouldn’t contain Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice, which according to him is the Biggest Good Thing Ever. Heaven, in other words, isn’t a perfect state of affairs on its own. It needs to be part of a bigger world which also includes Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice, but in order to have the latter, you need the evil and suffering (in the non-heavenly parts of that world).

          It’s like arguing that a world full of healthy people who never get sick or injured is morally sub-optimal because there are no opportunities for heroic, life-saving medical intervention. So in order to have the heroic, life-saving medical intervention, you need at least some part of the world in which sickness and injury occur.

          It’s a theodicy based on Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, as eric at #14 puts it.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told. No other great-making property of a world can match this one.

    Except each and every orgasm.

    • Mark Fuller Dillon
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Amen.

    • Beachbum
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Also, the another translation of that line is: “My God, My God, why have you left me behind?” which is more consistent with the Docetism underlying the Mark’s version.

      It is the dishonest sophism employed to decipher these books, the incongruousness of the theology, and the inconsistencies to historical reality that should show anyone sitting on the fence which side they should come down upon. It is my view that these self prescribed interpreters would be much more honest, less sophistic, if they actually believed anything the monotheisms proscribed.

      The greatest propaganda campaign ever sold has long been my view of this testament(?), thanks.

      • NMcC
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        It’s also the opening lines of the 22nd Psalm. Of course, Jesus never said anything of the sort. It was put into his mouth 40 years later.

  6. Ludo
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    - “His thesis is, as usual, that there is no conflict between science and religion, but between science and naturalism.” –
    Shouldn’t that be: “- between naturalism and religion”?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Nope, between science and naturalism. If we believe in naturalism, then we could not trust our senses, because natural selection cannot give us the ability to detect truth. And if that’s the case, then we can’t do science, because science depends on detecting truth. That ability could have been conferred only by God: the “sensus divinitatis.” LOL!

      • Ludo
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Thanks for clarifying this! That is really very sophisticated sophistry indeed!

        • Ludo
          Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          -sophistry-cated theology?

      • gr8hands
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        I’m curious about what evidence has been supplied that “natural selection cannot give us the ability to detect truth.”

        Surely, those who were unable to detect the truth of a nearby predator did not survive to procreate.

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          Admittedly, some very twisted “logic” there. You might be interested in a review of that book of Plantinga’s that was reposted on Joseph Hoffmann’s blog from which came this segment and my response:

          … there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

          Seems to me that “having true beliefs” about one’s environment is going to be a strong determinant of one’s survival; guessing wrong about which plants and animals are edible and which ones see oneself likewise can’t have been conducive to leaving many progeny behind to continue the process of a species’ development. Seems that Plantinga doesn’t really understand the processes of evolution and was unable to ask himself why and how those faculties contributed to survival. Possibly a bias of some sort?

          Seems to me that the only way that that can even remotely hang together is if Jehovah – the supernatural part outside of naturalism, which is really an oxymoron as far as I can see – fiddled the books all the way along and granted “truth-tracking” only to the ancestors of theologians but not to those of atheists and scientists. Nice fellow ….

        • shelterit
          Posted August 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          Start here;

          http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com.au/2010/09/plantinga-and-myself-on-radio.html

          Plantinga is building up a model of philosophy revolving around an argument that if evolution is true, the parameters for finding truth is diminished by the evolutionary processes themselves, ie. evolution don’t produce things that depict truth, only survival and reproduction.

          It’s a twisted argument without any evidence, of course, and you can equal it with saying that animals that hears true sounds are more likely to avoid the dangers, those who see truth better to evade predators, and those whos faculties are tuned to a true representation of the world in the end are going to be better at dealing with it and creating a secure environment for themselves and their offspring. In other words, evolution is actually more likely to produce creatures tuned to truth than otherwise, and because we are the produce of evolution it is even more likely for it to be true than any supernatural explanation, but don’t tell Plantinga. *rolls eyes*

          • Tulse
            Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

            if evolution is true, the parameters for finding truth is diminished by the evolutionary processes themselves

            …which is, of course, just an appeal to consequences, and not an actual argument. Plantinga first has to show that there is indeed some sort of objective Truth-with-a-capital-T before arguing that evolution does not produce the cognitive machinery necessary to find it.

            • shelterit
              Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, but I’m not sure that’s his main thrust as the logic of it is on the edge of what can be deduced from evidence, that there is just enough juice to his argument for it to pass to the next phase. I think he just wants to blemish evolution in order to the push forth the “logical” consequence that there have to be something external to evolution that is Truth, which we all know what he think is. So he doesn’t need to first define that there is a Truth, because the logical implications of this evolutionary argument “proves” that he doesn’t need to. In other words, “if your evolution is right – and we all agree it is at least mostly right – then what we think is true can’t be true by its own creation. Ergo, Jesus.”

              I heard the interview between Plantinga and Law, and I was amazed at how the religious side of the table just lapped it all up as if Plantingas argument said anything at all about the existence of first causes and whatsnot. It’s mind-boggling how bad the arguments are getting the more “sophisticated” they get.

              • Tulse
                Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

                he doesn’t need to first define that there is a Truth, because the logical implications of this evolutionary argument “proves” that he doesn’t need to.

                As I see it, the argument goes like this:

                Plantinga: Evolution can only produce correlation, and not Truth!

                Me: How do you know that is true?

                P: Because of my argument!

                M: But how do you know your argument is true? How do you know anything is actually “true”?

                P: Because my god put a sensus divinitatus in me!

                M: And how do you know that claim is true?

                P: Because my god put a sensus divinitatus in me!

                The argument is circular, because he has no way of establishing that there is actually something independent called “truth”, which is how he would even go about justifying his claims regarding evolution.

          • Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

            It’s a twisted argument without any evidence, of course … [animals] whose faculties are tuned to a true representation of the world in the end are going to be better at dealing with it ….

            Definitely a twisted, or at least convoluted and obscure, argument from Plantinga. But I’m wondering about the various implications and ramifications of the various assumptions and premises in play. For instance, Jerry in an earlier post on the subject said the following:

            Note that here Plantinga is basically saying that we don’t need stinking evidence for God, because we have that sensus divinitatus, which is obviously a great way to find truth because it’s part of our God-given “cognitive endowment.” But also note that Plantinga keeps saying, “if theistic belief is true,” as if somehow that belief does need evidence. And of course he doesn’t provide any—not an iota.

            Though, in passing, it seems Jerry meant to say “does not need evidence” as that would appear to be more consistent with Plantinga’s acceptance of it as a contingent premise, a hypothesis, as well as the elision of any need for that evidence.

            But while Plantinga seems to be begging the question – just assuming the truth of that hypothesis even as he seems to acknowledge its contingent nature – I think his argument is based on or highlights the fact that the argument for evolution is also based on a similar premise or hypothesis, i.e. that “Gawd” is not, in fact, fiddling the books through the whole process.

            And while I have no difficulty arguing that the latter, based largely on a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, is the more credible, the more parsimonious, the more justifiable argument, it seems that the contention, as with the proof or disproof of god, is simply not possible of conclusive proof. One might suggest, as a thought experiment, that the only way to prove one or the other correct or true would be to have a meta-universe and to run the “experiment” of this universe multiple times, adding “god” into the mix or not and see whether human evolution takes place, or not.

            • shelterit
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

              No, there’s a discrepancy here; evolution is a scientific theory with all the facts and evidence such entail, including that mostly ignored bit about the theory’s ability to predict and to be tested over and over by all. Evolution isn’t just a part of biology, it *is* biology and under constant scrutiny from thousands of scientists world over who would love nothing more than to discover some anomaly in the theory, and yet there is rigorous consensus; the laws governing evolution are consistent, as are the predictions we can make from it.

              The God hypothesis does not match this in any way, unless – and only unless – you define your god to match that scientific consensus, at which point it ceases to be, at least, Plantingas god. (And we could also go into the whole natural – supernatural argument in which it should be pointed out that whenever that supernatural entity interacts with the real world, it stops being supernatural and enters the realm of testability, ie. science)

  7. Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I admit I’m unfamiliar with the Bible; but does it say anywhere that God even cares if animals suffer? That he wants life to be “fair”? From what I can tell, the Christian God is just another lousy neighbor.

    I also never saw anywhere that said “He” had any control over what Satan does.

    Back here on Earth in(ahem)reality,I don’t find Christian pet owners to be any better or worse caregivers than other populations. But I do find people with kids are very often very sucky caregivers.

    Even barring the total morons who claim their children “own” the neglected pet (not even possible legally speaking), many get overlooked as too many go-forth-and-multiply wackadoodles treat their dogs and cats like furniture.

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      From what I can tell, the Christian God is just another lousy neighbor.

      Steven Pinker in his How the Mind Works quotes a Jewish aphorism to the effect that if Jehovah lived on Earth people would break his windows. For starters, I would think ….

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Driving the demons out of Legion into a herd of pigs? Cursing the fig tree?

      And of course pressing the Ark Reset button.

      None of this seems necessary to create the conditions for self-torture and redemption.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      Yes, you can find a few quotes that suggest that animals are treated as equals to humans in the Bible, and that they are found in heaven.

      E.g.,

      Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal… All go to the same place;”

      Also, from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 9:8-10: “Then God said to Noah, and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.'”

      • teacupoftheapocalypse
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        However, Genesis 26 says that man is superior to all animals:
        “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness :
        and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the
        fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over
        every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

        Just another of the holy babble’s many contradictions.

        • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          There are many contradiction, but not in this case. The fact that humans have dominion in life, does not imply that there isn’t an equality at death and beyond.

          • teacupoftheapocalypse
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            The holy babble does not give any reference to whether there are, or will be, animals (other than homo sapiens) in heaven, as the babble was written for the ‘salvation of mankind’.

            Some theologians argue that animals do have souls (although, again, there is no mention of this in the babble) and that they do, therefore, go to heaven. I do not know what percentage of theologians posing this argument own, or have have shares in, pet cemeteries and therefore have a vested interest is perpetuating this extension of theological mythology.

            The traditional theological argument is that animals do not have souls and do not, therefore, go to heaven. Since xtian theologians hold that the holy babble is the only source of the ultimate truth and that all necessary knowledge is contained therein, and since there is no mention of animals having souls, the argument that animals do not have souls and cannot, therefore, go to heaven is the only one that, theologically speaking, holds any water.

            As no animal other than homo sapiens has, as far as we know, invented the concepts of god, heaven and hell, none would end up in either place. Certainly, there is no known written record of any animal other than homo sapiens having dreamt them up. As yet, we have yet to develop the means to communicate with dolphins or laboratory mice, so I concede that they may, yet, have something to say on the matter.

            • Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

              1. Contrary to your claim, the Bible does in fact give numerous references to animals in heaven. For example, Rev 5:13 refers to “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea” being present in heaven.

              2. Contrary to your claim, there are numerous references in the Bible to animals having souls, as even a modicum of research would reveal. The Hebrew phrase “nephesh hayyah” is used throughout to refer to all living beings. The question under debate under some theologians is whether animals have immortal souls.

              3. Contrary to your claim, Christian theologians do not hold that the Bible is the only source of truth. Some, of the more simple variety, certainly do, but they’re hardly what one would call much of a theologian. Leibniz, a topical person for this discussion, for example argued that because faith and reason come from God, they must not be in contradiction – and if they are, reason must prevail. The first Vatican Council in the 1870s also claimed that faith, whilst superior to reason, must not contradict it (following a lineage dating back to Aquinas’s Summa Theologia). I could give plenty more examples, but the point should be clear that your assertion is incorrect.

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                Sorry, but I have but one copy of the bible, for reference purposes. It does not contain the phrase “nephesh hayyah” or any other similarly arcane text.

                Given that the holy babble also makes reference to animals not having souls, you appear to have cherry-picked the texts that support your argument and ignored the rest.

                Do you own, or do you have shares in, a pet cemetery?

                The Vatican would, of course, argue for the superiority of faith over reason. How else would they keep the flock in tow?

                But wait, we ignore the most important argument: that neither heaven or hell exist except as abstract concepts in the minds of humans, which makes the whole issue moot.

      • jimroberts
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        “All go to the same place;”

        Yes, but for the author of Ecclesiastes, the place they all go to is the grave. When he says they die, he means they die, not that they mysteriously live on in heaven.

        • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

          Whilst it is true that the immediate context appears agnostic “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:20–21).

          The concluding argue in contrary: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).

          Nota bene: I’m arguing this pro-forma, I’m not a believer.

  8. Not Completely Useless
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain. (Some may snort with disdain at this suggestion; it is none the worse for that.)”

    Well, he’s right about that. Snorting doesn’t make it any worse. That suggestion is snortlessly, absurdly, inanely stupid enough on its own.

  9. Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Almost Rational and commented:
    Here is another example of just how silly things can become when you try to take a case for the compatibility of religion and science to the extreme. This is what gives religious apologetics such a bad reputation. I prefer my own personal view of Bible as allegory to any wacky nonsense like Plantinga.

  10. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Wow, he’s really clairvoyant.

    I snorted with disdain before I reached the end of the paragraph. L

    • gr8hands
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps Plantinga has been snorting something . . .

  11. Dominic
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    First of all, thanks for reading this nonsense so we do not have two.

    “God wanted to create a really good world; among all the possible worlds, he wanted to choose one of very great goodness. But what sorts of properties make for a good world? What are the good-making properties for worlds? Many and various: containing rational creatures who live together in harmony, containing happy creatures, containing creatures who know and love God…”

    This makes no sense to me, & illustrates why I fall into 7 on the disbelief scale. If this god is all powerful it could create that world. Plantinga makes his god go shopping for characteristics – a bit of harmony here, a bit of love there… but either those properties exist without a god – being ideas – or they are all a part of that god, therefore god is beyond good & evil (terms I dislike using) & really isn’t bothered. Otherwise why would that god ‘create “Satan & his minions”. So we are the playthings of the gods.

    Also, Plantinga confounds humans as individuals with humans as a type. He says –
    “He created human beings; they rebelled against him and constantly go contrary to his will. Instead of treating them as some Oriental monarch would, he sent his Son, the Word, the second person of the Trinity into the world.”

    Hang on, when did this rebellion take place? Didn’t their ridiculous Noah story exemplify the oriental despot, a petulant god destroying his toys like a spoilt child? And then his so-called son gets manifested in one place, & from that peoples all over the world are supposed to accept this suffering god? Why could this god not manifest its ‘son’ in Australia or India or Africa etc instead or as well? I will tell you why – because this god & all its associated trappings emerged out of religious traditions of the middle east, as the product of a cultural process. It was a god made up by men.

    Grrrr…

    http://arago4.tnw.utwente.nl/stonedead/movies/meaning-of-life/06-growth-and-learning.html

    • Dominic
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Sorry, that was a bit long for me…

      • darrelle
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        You don’t get it do you? How can you be so mean and callous that you can not recognize god’s love for mankind (woman not so much)? All those seemingly horrific, reprehensible, evil things god has done where motivated solely by his overwhelming, divine love for us.

        • gr8hands
          Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          And because he needs our money.

  12. gillt
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told.

    Hold on a sec. Plantinga simply declares–after a cursory summary–that this is the greatest story EVAH!

    His entire argument rests on that one mere, and admittedly biased, opinion. This is not merely the sorriest argument ever told; it is the sorriest argument that could be told. I mean, how can this not be the worst of all possible arguments?

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      These Sophisticated Theologians™ specialize in that – declaration by executive opinion.

      I was once goaded into reading one these guys*; the first 32pgs was all I could tolerate. The first of his declarations I encountered was that classical music is beautiful, rock music isn’t. Of course, his target audience predated rock and therefore could hardly be expected to question that. Then after a verbal sleight-of-hand involving pain & suffering, his second declaration (@pg 32) was that there were no intermediate forms, period paragraph.

      *Thomas Dubay, who the goader supposed would cause me to see the light, as it were, and who won’t be issuing any more missives since he recently ceased to be.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      …and it’s not coherent on its face, anyway.

      So…god sent his son (himself) to Earth to die a horrible death (temporarily) so that god could then forgive humans for the unforgivable sin of a nonexistent woman eating an impossible IQ-raising sin-fruit that god himself was dumb enough to put in the magic garden, but once the woman ate the sin-fruit, god had no other choice but to kick them out of the garden and then much later after a lot of genocide of other tribes send himself to earth to die a horrible death (temporarily) because otherwise how could he forgive the nonexistent woman’s original sin?

      Why couldn’t he just forgive the sin?
      Remove the tree?
      Demonstrate his love (and existence) without the (temporary) death?

      So much wrong with this argument. So very very much wrong.

      • gr8hands
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        But none of your “solutions” would be mysterious.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      God loved us so much he was willing to have a bad weekend. It’s something, I suppose…

  13. Ludo
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Why do these theologians not simply admit what their holy bible is so clear about: that god just loves suffering…

    • Ludo
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      The corollary to that is that they themselves do too, since their god mirrors their longings.

    • gr8hands
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      “Suffer the little ones to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of god.” – paraphrased

      • Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        Your point is well taken. Yahweh certainly does have a thing about inflicting pain, misery, and death. The Old Testament is one big bloodbath, from Cain to Canaan.

        One thing I’d like to point out, though: The Middle English of the KJV uses “suffer” in a different sense for the passage you quote. It means “permit,” “allow.” The disciples want the kids to stop pestering the Teacher, and he tells them it’s OK, let ‘em be.

        • gr8hands
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          Clearly an atheist “interpretation” — don’t you know that the KJV is the only authorized by god himself version of scripture — and jesus spoke in English… red lettered English in fact!

          (Yes, I am aware of what the text meant in the ‘original’ — but so many theists do not.)

  14. eric
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    If so, however, perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain.

    Wow, that is just so backwards and evil. Its like some fictional account of Muchausen Syndrome By Proxy. The (fictional) parent thinks: I must heal you to show you how much I care. But you aren’t sick right now, so I must poison you to make you sick enough to heal.

    (And yeah, I know that isn’t an accurate account of how MBP works and that sufferers do it for attention, but its the closest analogy I could come up with.)

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Plantinga seems to do exactly the same thing when he says: Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain.

      It’s as if his god inflicted great sickness on the world so it could then administer a great remedy.

      With friends like that …

      • Kevin
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        It’s the Marquis de Sade school of forgiveness.

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          Reminds me of a quote of Nietzsche in Michel Onfray’s In Defense of Atheism:

          The concept of “God” invented as a counter-example of life – everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity! The concept of the “beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is – in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! The concept of the “soul”, the “spirit”, finally even “immortal soul”, invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick …. In place of health, the “salvation of the soul” – that is a “folie circulaire” [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and hysteria about redemption! [Ecce Homo]

  15. Mark Fuller Dillon
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    “Instead of treating them as some Oriental monarch would, he sent his Son, the Word, the second person of the Trinity into the world. The Word became flesh and dewlt among us. He was subjected to ridicule, rejection, and finally the cruel and humiliating death of the cross. Horrifying as that is, Jesus, the Word, the son of God, suffered something vastly more horrifying: abandonment by God, exclusion from his love and affection: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told. No other great-making property of a world can match this one.”

    Whenever I come across a statement like this one, I realize that I could not only never be a christian, but that I could never stand to watch a snuff movie, either.

  16. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “…driven mad by Christianity…”? More likely driven mad by the desire to rationalise the irational.

    Pretzel logic.

  17. Occam
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it great for a theologian like Plantinga to know, or at least to second-guess, god’s mind?

    But he’s wrong. That’s not at all what I had in mind. I challenge him to prove me wrong.

  18. Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “Satan and his minions” guess that’s all of us non-believers, scientists, etc.

    The prime absurdity of all this is how would any one (old guy academic) claim to understand anything about this idea of “god!?” and what this entity is “thinking/doing!?” rofl — too funny, i.e.,

    1. There is this super-supernatural entity
    2. Here is what this entity did
    3. Here is why this entity did it — according to ME!!

    It is shockingly pathetic, however, how one smooth talking guy can actually earn a living and get awards and positions of leadership spouting such nonsense. It is laughable and pathetic — while knowing as much about biology and animals as pre-literate peoples.

    These are really pre-literate mythological arguments. Always love mention of Satan however.

  19. Broga
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    This is truly desperate christian apologetics. Their threadbare case for their God is exposed by this nonsense. A God impregnates a married virgin to produce his son, himself and the holy ghost. Oh my! How crazy can they get. The gods of legend – Zeus and the rest – also impregnated mortals and christianity as in so much else stole what was there before.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      Yeah but the Olympians had much more fun doing it ;)

  20. Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Gosh, we are not even allowed to laugh at Plantinga.

    This really is suffering on a vast scale. All that comedy he produces and we are not allowed to laugh at him.

    How can human beings suffer such torment as to listen to Plantinga’s theology, which makes studying Vogon poetry seem like the most relaxing entertainment?

  21. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told.

    Suppose I am the owner of a zoo. To the animals I’m God. In the middle of my zoo is a little island with a colony of chimpanzees. They are an unruly lot; sometimes they even fling poo at me. Fortunately, I’m not vindictive. Therefore I have chosen to forgive them (I could have killed them all). My mode of forgiveness is perhaps a bit…unorthodox. I could have said, okay, you are just a bunch of apes — what else could I have expected? Instead, I have decided to impregnate one of the female chimps, to let the group raise my little boy until he becomes of age, and then to let them torture my hirsute son to death. If this isn’t an overwhelming display of love and mercy I don’t know what is.

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      +1 and well put.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      Worse than that – in the scenario, the chimpanzee colony would also be expected to be eternally (literally?) grateful for you having done all that for them.

      I wonder, with all the SF Jesus-was-a-an-ET stories, whether there are any that do the rest of that sort of scenario too. (_Starman_ comes close, with Jenny Hayden being “miraculously” impregnated, but that’s after the visit …)

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

        Not to forget that the mother would still be a virgin, and the son would have been resurrected. It’s hard to satirize stuff that is its own best satire.

  22. Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Jerry — FYI: While I don’t specifically target Alvin Plantinga’s remarks, I’ve written on this very issue and defended an evidential argument for atheism based upon animal suffering. See here:

    The Evidential Argument from Flourishing and Languishing

    See also:

    The Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution

    and

    The Evidential Argument from the Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure

  23. Stonyground
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    His problem is that his religious beliefs paint him into a corner because reality disproves said religious beliefs. Rather than understanding the implication that his religious beliefs are demonstrably untrue and rejecting them, he tries to rationalise them instead. Pretty unsuccessfully by the look of things.

  24. Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    “I think that Plantinga has been driven mad by Christianity.”

    Has anyone looked for a correlation between religion and Alzheimer’s disease? Don’t laugh, I’m serious. I wonder whether people of “faith” (who are less likely to ask questions or think about information that might challenge their world view) are more at risk than atheists for whom curiosity, critical thinking, and rational explanations are essential.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Interesting question. The evidence is very clear that, as with muscle and bone tissue, brain function has an aspect of “use it or lose it” to it.

      I don’t know though. I know plenty of people that have strong religious convictions and yet still manage to be very inquisitive and active.

    • Flaffer
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      A friend of mine wrote his Ph.D diss on the clinical issues with certain aspects of religious experience. It is not well known that there is a vast amount of psychological clinical work on the psychopathology surrounding religious believers and the similarities to aspects of religious experience and clinical pathological experience and behavior. His diss’ bibliography had 100s of citations to such studies.

  25. Reg Le Sueur
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think our motto concerning Xianity should be: “It’s the silliest story ever told”. That’s what I usually tell my Christian friends. (I don’t think they regard me as a friend).
    So we are in a state of continuous atonement?
    We are atoning for Jesus’ suffering because he was atoning for the sins of mankind. I think I would rather go surfing.

  26. darrelle
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Like I’ve said before, if that is all you have to come up with in order to be considered an elite academic, then I want Plantinga’s job.

    It seems to me that any claim that a critic of religion has not considered or addressed the sophisticated arguments of high end theologians is simply a very straightforward appeal to authority. As in, “I really want to believe this, but I can’t counter your criticisms, but my very smart leader says that it is okay for me to believe.

    The most sophisticated theological arguments are shamefully simplistic and juvenile. At some level I think theologians, moderns ones at least, are aware of this and that contributes to them being so touchy when they are called out on the ridiculousness of their arguments.

    In just about any other context if a person who has demonstrated that they have generally high cognitive abilities, and then they suddenly turn out something as ridiculous as what Plantinga did here, and behave as if it is serious shit, that would be cause for serious concerns leading to a full medical work up.

  27. Mark Fuller Dillon
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Professor Coyne,

    This might be off-topic, but I’d be curious to read your thoughts about the recent Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.

    It would seem to me that the declaration offers further details on Why Evolution Is True, but also makes even less likely the already unlikely assumption that human beings are the special creation of the gods.

    In short, could this be a third major scientific event this year, just as important as the discovery of the Higgs boson particle and the landing of the probe on Mars, and potentially one that might hit us closer to home?

    I’d love to read your ideas on the matter!

  28. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    The many honors that Plantinga has won bewilders me. (Wow- we’ve got other folk opting for God-guided evolution- now it’s devil-derailment of evolution!)

    If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with boole-schitt.

    “He who knows he is profound strives for clarity- he who wishes to appear profound strives for obscurity”-Nietzsche

    I moderately respect those theologians who say we cannot know where there is evil and just opt for total theodicy-agnosticism. But this is just theo-idi-odicy.
    (And trying to read it is an idi-odyssey!)

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “know why” in last paragraph, not “know where”

  29. Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I stil don´t know who is more stupid among christian philosophers: Craig or Plantinga!

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga’s answer comes over as Delusional Theology™.

    And what’s with the exponential polytheism, isn’t zombies enough anymore? “Satan and his minions”, indeed.

    containing rational creatures who live together in harmony, … , containing creatures who know and love God,

    Why are “rational” and “know [one of Plantinga's many gods]” in opposition here? Is it because there is no evidence for gods as opposed to rational knowledge?

    Then either it would be irrational to “know” gods or Plantinga is inserting a lot of special pleading here – which of course is irrational as well.

    I’m afraid Plantinga’s world is now so delusional that he can’t see the inconsistencies anymore. Religion poisons everything.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Delusional Theology™.

      Isn’t that like saying water is wet?

  31. jeffery
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Yep, he crazy, all right: so the world has to be “bad”, for the redemption through Christ to be as good as possible? It’s funny how he refers to humans “rebelling against him and constantly going contrary to his will”: wouldn’t the term, “wishes” work better, as it would be impossible to go against the “will” of an omnipotent being now, wouldn’t it?
    Plantinga’s “take” on “Why hast thou forsaken me?” is one of the most bizarre examples of “Christian thought twisting” that I’ve seen: it is obvious that if Jesus WAS God, as trinitarian dogma would have it, he would have foreknowledge of what was going to happen and his eventual reward and would be placidly pleased that his “plan” was going so well; instead, as someone has said, “He’s acting, like a man who would much rather be anywhere than where he is at the time” (not to mention the strange fact that, if he IS God, he’s wondering why he’s forsaken himself!); hardly the sentiments of a deity who’s fulfilling his own plan.
    Somehow, Plantinga chooses to see this paradox as a purposeful, planned manifestation of the most exquisite torture ever, one that makes the pleasures of redemption ultimately valuable and in addition, supplies the ultimate “one-upmanship”: “No one has EVER suffered more than blessed Jesus (which also implies that our sufferings, and the sufferings of animals as well, are beneath notice, anyway). God abandoning God(Hey, I guess if you’re all-powerful you can do anything, right?)! It reminds me of nothing so much as “fire-and-brimstone” descriptions of Hell, which fall over each other contradicting themselves in trying to describe the “worst” torments ever (fire that does not consume; absolute darkness in which one can yet discern one’s sufferings, amputations that immediately grow back to be cut off again, etc., etc.). I saw a cartoon in an old “National Lampoon” years ago, depicting the Catholic vision of Hell: a man lies writhing in a bed of snakes, his voice balloon saying, “Even worse than these torments is the knowledge that I will never behold the beatific vision.”
    Of course, one has to realize that arguments like these HAVE to be produced; stances like these HAVE to be adopted and defended: else the Babble would appear as exactly what it is: nonsense.

  32. Hempenstein
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I think that Plantinga has been driven mad by Christianity.

    He wouldn’t be the first.

  33. Claimthehighground
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Just wondering: If a male wildebeest dies a painful martyr’s death protecting the herd from the lions, does he get 73 virgin wildebeests in gnu heaven? That might be a real draw for gnu atheism. Oh, except for having to believe in that heaven part. Still workin’ this out. :)

  34. Gary W
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain.

    This is the standard non-answer offered by “sophisticated” Christians to the Problem of Evil. That somehow, in some way they cannot explain, the evil we observe is somehow necessary in order to ultimately bring about the greatest good. As Jason Rosenhouse has said, this isn’t an answer so much as an admission that they have no answer.

  35. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    An original definition of ‘sophisticated’ in English is: dishonest, devious or misleading.

    See also ‘sophist’ and ‘sophistry’.

    • Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

      Perhaps it should be called “Sophistical Theology™”.

  36. Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    If I may be allowed an observation, I think that Plantinga has been driven mad by Christianity.

    The nub, the crux, of the matter, actually; hits the nail squarely on the head and drives it home if not through the plank. W.C. Fields said that more people have been driven insane by religious hysteria than by alcohol – and probably with less enjoyment. Which certainly has a ring of truth to it.

    But that “Sophisticated Theology ™” reminds me of seeing a documentary on animal behaviour which profiled some chimpanzees, one of whom had reached into a clear plastic jar for a banana therein. But the neck of the bottle was too narrow for the animal to get both its fist and the banana out – which caused the poor beast to go into paroxysms of rage and frustration.

    Likewise with the religious in general and theologians in particular: they have grabbed a hold of this concept of immortality – some might argue, have clasped a viper to their breasts – and they, and their sanity, will be god-damned if they let go of it or try to find a rational way to reach their goal.

  37. Veroxitatis
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    If you believe in an imaginary world then any set of constructs for such a world is possible.
    I thought counting angels on the head of a pin went out of fashion a few hundred years ago.

  38. Kevin
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Hitchens dispensed with this nonsense years ago.

    His argument didn’t even need to include animals — just the attributes of an all-knowing and all-loving god.

    Humans as a species (homo sapiens sapiens) have been on this planet 200,000 years or so. For the vast majority of this time, they were a prey species. They lived short, brutal lives. Even as they developed culture, their and agriculture medicine was still not up to the task of advancing life spans beyond a couple of decades. And most often, people died in agony of things like burst appendixes and bad teeth.

    And through 198,000 of those years, god sits with folded arms. Doing nothing. Watching brutal death after brutal death. Soul upon soul upon soul wasted in the flames.

    You’d have to posit a sadist god in order to buy this story. If he were human, the ASCPA would have him up on charges.

  39. MNb
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    In fact, if (and never has there been a bigger if) we accept Plantinga’s argument, then it’s obvious that human-lead evolution sometimes has way nicer results then theist evolution:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19945_the-5-coolest-pets-humanity-has-bred-into-existence.html?wa_user1=3&wa_user2=Science&wa_user3=article&wa_user4=feature_module

    Pick your choice which is the cutest.

  40. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    In a way I feel sorry for Sophisticated Theologians. The material they have to work with is not exactly first rate. It’s a paradox-ridden farago of absurdities concocted by frauds and deranged ‘prophets’. It’s hardly surprising that the resulting Sophisticated Theology is itself a paradox-ridden farago of absurdities. How could it be otherwise?

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      ‘farrago’ even

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Starting off with contradictory premises [P and Not-P] and erroneous rules of inference plus a dearth of facts, coupled with an obstinate refusal to test the hypotheses, is not terribly conducive to yielding credible conclusions that have any correspondence to reality.

      More succinctly: GIGO; Garbage In; Garbage Out ….

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

        Ex falso quodlibet.

        • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. Learn something new every day … :-)

  41. lofgren
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I first encountered a version of this argument as a freshman in a college philosophy class. The entire class erupted in laughter until the professor reminded us that since the theologian accepts the existence of the supernatural, demons are allowed as a serious argument.

    • blitz442
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Ok, but did you continue laughing even harder after that?

  42. JMk2
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    >Must I take this seriously and discuss the evidence for The Hornéd One?

    Shouldn’t that be “Hornèd”? (If I’m wrong, please explain! Is this pig Elizabethan/Jacobean English pronunciation?)

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Actually, shouldn’t it be “Hornĕd”?:)

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        :-)

  43. MadScientist
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like the usual Plantinga: try to redefine science to suit religion while blaming a mysterious “naturalism” for causing any perceived problems.

  44. blitz442
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain”

    So Plantinga imagines a scenario where evolution can produce sentient creatures that either always utilize photosynthesis (or something like it) to nourish themselves, or only consume creatures with no nervous system to speak of. Ok, I guess it’s possible that predation of sentient creatures is not a requirement of evolution. Seems extremely unlikely though, since predation is a very lucrative niche.

    But I cannot see how pain, and especially waste, are optional features of evolution by natural selection. How would evolution get going if creatures did not produce a surplus of offspring, some with more inherited, expected reproductive success than others? Also, extinction of most species that are ever produced seems unavoidable, otherwise ecosystems would get rather crowded. Satan must have been a huge fan of speciation as well.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      “Satan… _may_ have been permitted to play a role…”

      Permitted by who? And why? If by God, then he is responsible for all the evil Satan did (since being omniscient he knew what was going to happen…)

  45. Posted August 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    He’s just question dodging.

    Why does the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omnibenevolent being of pure good play out this bullcrap morality play when his stated powers indicate that he, a being of infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, etc., could theoretically design a universe without all the misery and suffering it possesses?

    I think I could design a better system. And I was an engineer student for just one semester where I didn’t even take an engineering course.

  46. raven
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga is an idiot.

    No other way to put it.

    His story about what the bible story says is just ridiculous.

    • raven
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I only made it half way through Plantinga’s drivel before giving up. One example.

      God, the almighty first being of the universe and creator of everything else, was willing to undergo enormous suffering in order to redeem creatures who had turned their backs on him.

      Whose fault is it that god’s creatures turned out defective? Isn’t he supposed to be all powerful and omniscient?

      Who put the first two naive humans in a magic garden, with the Trees of Life and Knowledge, and a smart ass talking snake? An idiot could tell that wasn’t going to end well.

      Genesis doesn’t say he suffered after his defective creatures got smart. God kicked them out of the garden because he was afraid of them. There was one Tree down, one to go to becoming gods, Tree of Life.

      And who turned their backs on god anyway. Billions of people worship some version of him.

      How does torturing one guy for a few hours “redeem” billions of people. Even we humans don’t allow scapegoating and substitutes for justice these days.

      It all falls apart when you look at it.

    • raven
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain.

      Plantinga is implying here that god likes satan and the demons as much as humans. That is why he lets them run around, doing whatever they want.

      If so, why call this being god and call it good?

      It’s all make believe and let’s pretend.

      The actual data says the bible is just a kludgy old book of fiction, and god, satan, angels, and demons are equally as real, which is zero.

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Worse, he lies — and gets celebrated and paid for it.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        Well, I’m no fan of Plantinga, but I have no evidence that he lies–that he’s deliberately saying things he doesn’t believe. In fact, all indications are to the contrary. So your judgment is rather harsh.

        A lie is a statement that you know is untrue; Plantinga’s statements are untrue, but he still believes them–ergo they’re not lies. They’re just errors.

        • Tim
          Posted August 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          Don’t you suspect that, deep down, he has the nagging feeling that he’s just making this stuff up. Not exactly lying perhaps, but certainly he’s bullshitting.

          • Ludo
            Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            -godshitting – ?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure which implication is most derogatory to Plantinga – that he knows it’s rubbish (i.e. lying for, presumably, what he regards as some good reason); or that he really believes it, in which case it casts serious doubts on his mental capacity.

        • andreschuiteman
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

          Continuing to use arguments that have been refuted time and again, while just ignoring the refutations, is at least intellectually dishonest. Plantinga is like a cranky maths professor who constantly tries to peddle his method for squaring the circle, even though better mathematicians have proved long ago that squaring the circle is impossible.

  47. raven
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    They come from Satan! And why, exactly, did God allow Satan to do that?

    Plantinga implies that god likes satan and the demons as much as he likes humans. And why not? He created them too.

  48. suya
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    How do Occidental monarchs treat rebellious subjects?

    • Mark Fuller Dillon
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      They force their subjects to read theology.

  49. cornbread_r2
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Stan: Why would God let Kenny die, Chef? Why? Kenny’s my friend. Why can’t God take someone else’s friend?
    Chef: [Soothing piano music is played] Stan, sometimes God takes those closest to us, because it makes him feel better about himself. He is a very vengeful God, Stan. He’s all pissed off about something we did thousands of years ago. He just can’t get over it, so he doesn’t care who he takes. Children, puppies, it don’t matter to him, so long as it makes us sad. Do you understand?
    Stan: But then, why does God give us anything to start with?
    Chef: Well, look at it this way: if you want to make a baby cry, first you give it a lollipop. Then you take it away. If you never give it a lollipop to begin with, then you would have nothin’ to cry about. That’s like God, who gives us life and love and help just so that he can tear it all away and make us cry, so he can drink the sweet milk of our tears. You see, it’s our tears, Stan, that give God his great power.

    — From a 2001 episode of South Park

    • Tim
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      What is really sad is that this is actually more sensible than Platinga. It’s to the point, no sophistry-cation. (Thanks Ludo!)

  50. dunstar
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    are you sure Kent Hovind didn’t write that bit about Satan?? lol sounds awfully alot like his PhD thesis.

  51. joe piecuch
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    deranged as plantinga’s reasoning may be, and self serving the purposes towards which he employs it, he at least feels the need to address the issue of not just human suffering, but that of animals as well, rather than just shrugging it off (‘they taste good’), accepting it as a necessary price to pay (‘they make great boots’)or taking delight in it (“most adorable, i assure you!” – ben goren).

  52. corio37
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga’s sole argument is that spontaneously arriving at the belief “tigers are good to eat” would not be an evolutionary disadvantage provided it was accompanied by the belief “‘eating’ means ‘running away from really fast'” But if you apply this consistently, you merely end up with a tribal language in which ‘eat’ means ‘run away from’. The tribe’s beliefs remain true, they are just expressed differently from ours.

    But all this is nonsense on stilts anyway, since we KNOW how beliefs come into being, and how they are transmitted from one person to another. There’s simply no gaps for God or any other random-belief generator to occupy.

  53. Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on urbanperegrines.

  54. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Remember, evil is live spelled backwards. To paraphrase Anne Boleyn’s comment on treason, “Evil is whatever they say it is.”

  55. Ludo
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    In my opinion it suffices to laugh with theologians and their theology. Taking them seriously serves no purpose at all, and is really superfluous: they do that themselves 24 hours a day. Plain, honest laughter is even better than sarcasm or ridicule, which provides them with the suffering they crave and enjoy. And then, laughter, being contagious, might possibly humanize some of them?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaIJKM0sjdo

    • Ludo
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

      This might also help?

  56. Nick
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    So what we have here appears to be The Argument from Great* Story Telling. The athiests are winning, my friends.

    * matter of opinion, of course

  57. Pray Hard
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    By definition, in my opinion, religion, being socially sanctioned mental illness, cannot be sane, ever. And, the more insane it is, the more “believable” it becomes or must become to its adherents. Since it’s unacceptable to see it as the insanity it is, thus begins the endless, pointless search for hidden and or deeper meaning and or the “real” meaning of it. So we end up with acres and acres of fertile ground for wacko articles by experts.

  58. Iain Walker
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “Among good-making properties for worlds, however, there is one of special, transcendent importance [...] God, the almighty first being of the universe and creator of everything else, was willing to undergo enormous suffering in order to redeem creatures who had turned their backs on him.” – Plantinga

    But in what way does Christ’s suffering redeem them? Symbolically at best, or in other words not at all, because taken literally, the doctrine of vicarious atonement is morally incoherent, a bizarre form of auto-scapegoating that makes a nonsense of individual moral agency. And even if we suppose that humans need to be redeemed, why go about it this way? Can’t God come up with something less melodramatic? What’s wrong with patient moral teaching or setting an example through virtuous living?

    “perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain. Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain.” – Plantinga

    This is a common trick in theodicies – claim that the solution is so intrinsically wonderful that it justifies the existence of initial problem. It’s like saying that the heroic performance of the surgeon who saved your life from a brain tumour is such a wonderful thing that it completely justifies your having the brain tumour in the first place. Except things like life-saving surgery or “redemptive” self-sacrifice are contingent goods – what makes them valuable is that they remedy existing evils. Without those evils, these goods are no longer required, and are simply irrelevant to totting up the amount of value in the world. To suggest as Plantinga and other theodicists do that you need the evils in order to bring about these goods is to get the arrow of moral justification back-to-front.

    What Plantinga’s theodicy is engaging in here is not real-world morality but story-book morality, with retroactive plotting determined by the Rule of Cool. Want your surgeon character to do something awesome? Give another character a brain tumour for him/her to operate on. Want your Messiah figure to do something even more awesome? Create a world that’s so messed up that he has to undergo painful self-sacrifice to make it better. Except vicarious atonement isn’t cool or awesome. It’s not a good-making property. It’s sick and nonsensical, and it does not justify setting up a world filled with pain and suffering just so that God can write himself into the story as the redeeming, self-sacrificing hero.

    “Still further, it may very well contain sin and suffering, not just on the part of human beings but perhaps also on the part of other creatures as well.” – Plantinga

    “May”? “Perhaps”? As a justification for animal suffering, that’s kind of … lacking in supporting arguments.

    “Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain” – Plantinga

    Nonsense like this is the reason why Plantinga has been immortalised thus in the Philosophical Lexicon:

    alvinize, v. To stimulate protracted discussion by making a bizarre claim. “His contention that natural evil is due to Satanic agency alvinized his listeners.”

    planting, v. To use twentieth-century fertilizer to encourage new shoots from eleventh-century ideas which everyone thought had gone to seed; hence, plantinger, n. one who plantings.

    (http://www.philosophicallexicon.com/)

  59. Joshua Greve
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I have to wonder why you feel you can responsibly claim that Platigna’s explanation is the best Christianity has to offer.  Who are you trying to convince that this is where the search ends? Yourself? Other atheists or skeptics? Christians?  Either way, the attitude with which you write this article suggests you still have a bone to pick and that you personally have unfinished business, which his fine, but what I criticize is your lack of forthrightness about that.  Your words claim a sense of certainty but your style betrays that with a strong scent of exactly the opposite.  

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “accusing” you of being a closet Christian or even a theist for the matter.  I am only suggesting that your writing gives the impression of a man who wants to seem much more certain than he actually is.  I point this out because Christians are often accused of the same thing by their antagonists and I don’t deny ha there is certainly truth to that accusation.  However, what is interesting is that I have run across far more Christians admitting to the doubts they struggle with than skeptic writers.  Oddly enough, it is just generally accepted that skeptics are honest (only lamely criticized that they might do so too brutally missing out on the ‘beauty’ of life… I think you and I can both agree that that is a weak argument at best) and Christians are delusional.

    I think either world view (that of the skeptic materialist and that of the hopeful theist) can be held with equal vigor and success, or lack thereof, by the delusional and (brutally) honest alike.

    Josh

  60. Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    “I think that Plantinga has been driven mad by Christianity.”

    You’re just now coming to that conclusion?

    Please, go back and re-watch that last video of the dimwit that you posted. Then see if there’s any reason to wonder?

    I think not.

  61. Joe Barron
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    As I read Plantinga’s theodicy, the one thing that kept recurring to me was, “What does any of this have to do with epistomolgy or rationality?” I thought Platinga’s book was about science. What is there about any of this that even remotely has to do with science? It is myth, pure and simple, and it is not subject to any legitiamte method for determing truth that anyone could devise. And how can he possibly “know” what kind of world God “wanted” to create? In this context, faith is not a form of knowledge. It is a form of making stuff up.

  62. Joe Barron
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    This is sort of an ontological argument for pain. The greatest thing that could ever happen is that Jesus died for our sins. Sin requires suffering, so suffering is the greatest thing there is.

  63. Posted January 15, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Great post, and yes, no real need to explain why the argument is so ridiculous – it speaks for itself.

    So, the best feature of a world is for the creator of it to have to suffer to fix some problem in the world. And the bigger the problem, the better. So more suffering really means a more awesome God!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      Not aweSOME.

      awFUL.

      (Some might say, bloody awful) :)


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