I want to give two thumbs up to John Loftus’s book, Why I Became an Atheist. Despite its title, it’s far more than the story of Loftus’s journey from Christian minister to outspoken atheist. It’s really a thoughtful and well-documented dissection of religious arguments and theological claims. There are, for example, chapters on “The question of miracles,” “The problem of unanswered prayer,” “Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?”, and so on.
And there are two nice chapters on the “problem of suffering,” in which Loftus takes on and destroys the pathetic arguments offered by the faithful for why a good and powerful God allows gratuitous suffering.
So read the book. While so doing, I came across this quotation that Loftus uses to demonstrate how believers rationalize evil. The quote is so totally insane that I had to reproduce it. It’s on p. 222 of Loftus’s book, but the original source is pp. 177-181 of Brian Davies’s 2006 book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. (Davies is a well-known philospher of religion, now at Fordham University.)
The evil in evil suffered is not an existent entity. It is not identifiable substance or positive quality. Evil suffered occurs as existing things fail to be as good as they could be. In that case, however, I immediately conclude that the evil in evil suffered cannot be caused by God. For God, as I’ve argued, is the cause of the being of all that is real apart from himself, and the evil in evil suffered is not something with being, not something actual, and therefore, not something created by him. . . There are blind people. But blindness has no independent existence. There are blind people only because there are people who cannot see. In a similar way, evil suffered has no independent existence. . . it is still parasitic on goodness. . . the evil in evil suffered, I am saying, does not actually exist. . . The badness in a diseased cat is nothing real in the cat.
This is Sophisticated Theology™ at its finest: it simply waves away the problem of evil by denying that it—and suffering—exist. And if suffering isn’t real, God wasn’t responsible. Sophisticated Theology™ is characterized by two qualities: completely unsupported assertions and blatant obfuscation, often using fancy academic words. Both qualities are on view here.
Loftus takes the quote apart, but it’s almost self-refuting. Ask an Afghan woman blinded by acid whether she is suffering in a real way, and whether her blindness is “real”. And if blindness has no independent existence, does the HIV/AIDS virus? And since that virus causes AIDS, does that disease lack an “independent existence”? Disease and suffering (the “evils” of Davies) are real phenomena—phenomena with physical causes that a benevolent and powerful god could have prevented, just as god could have prevented a fanatical Muslim from trying to blind women for going to school. Claiming that these things have “no independent existence” is just a cheap and oily way to get around the problem.
Re Davies, I’m going to repeat the George Orwell quote that comes in so handy when dealing with Sophisticated Theology™ (it was made in another context):
One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.